Film Scouts Reviews

"The Big One"

by Karen Jaehne

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Agit-prop drives today's documentary filmmaking, so if you believe in the ethical superiority of documentary over entertainment, then the best movie is the one that helps the most people. By such criteria, The Big One is the best film ever made. And it is made by Michael Moore, the Voice of the Unemployed.

On the other hand... The Big One is a sloppy piece of handiwork, or do they call that Neo-postmodern? It is primarily footage of Michael Moore clowning through a book tour for his volume about the latest phenomenon plaguing America. It's an evil that requires such euphemisms as pink-slips, layoffs, restructuring and the most artificial noun in the language - downsizing. It makes you wonder why, for example, the wealthier people are, the skinnier they try to be, and the more impoverished they are, the greater the gut. Hmm...?

Credit goes to Michael Moore for discovering the real people behind the downsizing neologism. It's always wise to follow the money just to keep everybody on the up-and-up. Random House paid Moore to promote his book that they published, and Moore paid his camera-toting pals to record the people who came to listen to him talk and sell "Downsize This!" Moore wanted a film out of his adventure in the book trade, so he made one.

The Big One doesn't tell you much about Moore's deal or publishing in general, but we do meet stealthy Borders bookstore employees (who have to pass a literary/cultural test to get paid minimum wage) trying to form a union in the parking lot by night. A little encouragement from their hero Michael Moore is invaluable.

Moore is radical, by any standard. He's a revolutionary by the standards of anybody in America who's got himself onto the gravy train and is loathe to let anybody else slurp up the drippings. In one scene, Moore makes Garrison Keillor visibly uncomfortable. Keillor has carved out a career in promoting a mawkish vision of rural American bumpkins; why rock the boat by asking about the unemployment figures in Lake Wobegon?

Truth to tell, Moore's only equal in the cultural realm is country singer Steve Earle whose song "The Little Man is Gettin' Smaller All the Time" hits where it hurts. It would be good to see Moore meet his match once in a while. He tends to go after people who are not up to a good debate with him, rich or poor. In short, the people Moore is appealing to will never see this documentary, and I'm not sure it offers comfort to their victims.

So what's Moore's point? In Bill Clinton's unemployment-free America, people are getting crappy wages. Managers are most proud when they're putting money in the pockets of shareholders instead of paying the workers. Bosses are uniformly corrupt, because self-interest is their only interest. And they lie and steal and cheat workers. They're even proud of it, considering it "the cost of doing business." Dickens discovered this.

Moore wants to document conversations with corporate honchos, as he did for his debut in "Roger and Me." Clearly, word is out among the CEO-set: avoid that roly-poly madman asking informed questions about your annual report!

The best section of the movie involves the CEO of Nike, to whom Moore offers a plane-ticket to the underdeveloped country where he pays 14-year-old girls 45 cents a day to make America's ballplayers jump. This guy is not your business-school cookie-cutter CEO. In fact, you can tell he likes Michael Moore, he's just too dumb to see that he himself is part of the problem. Moore skewers him, betraying his craven idiocy, until Moore finally gets him to commit $10,000 to Moore's favorite charity, his hometown of Flint, Michigan where folks ain't got no jobs. Moore can only obtain this pitiful amount from the 3 billion dollar corporation by manipulating him into providing matching funds. In short, Michael puts his money where his mouth is, and the one CEO who would talk to him is embarrassed into tossing small change into the hat. That's why other CEOs avoid him; if they wanted to give to the poor, they'd wear cassocks, not Armani.

Moore's aim is captured in the irony of the title: The Big One is his ironic recommendation for a new, more imaginative name for the U.S. of A. Of course, the operative part of the phrase is the missing word up front: "Suck..." Which fairly well sums up what Bill Clinton has done for us (not to mention himself).

Clinton has given us the illusion of employment, but nobody can pay their bills. Working has been degraded, and it's no wonder school kids have no respect for the work ethic. Among the Forbes 500, how many people have ever actually labored? No, they let their investment advisors and accountants do it for them. It's a sad story, but Moore's film The Big One has not told it well. Yet by doing the research, Moore was savvy enough to get Miramax mogul Harvey Weinstein to commit $100,000 to Flint, Michigan, as well as half the film's profits! Unfortunately, I'd bet you a burger that the accounting methods prohibit profit and Flint is a little like the gaffer who gets points in an indie film. Zilch.

Anyway, Moore can't be blamed for the liars and thieves in his chosen profession. Moore is a mammoth man, a lovable gorilla before the camera. And as one of the Good Guys, his company is thin.

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