Movie Reviews

Movie Review: Roger & Me – GM and Mattel Are the Black Sheep of Globalization

Written by Michael Moore
Directed by Michael Moore

I’ve seen too often in recent years that people don’t care about stories on the evening news unless it affects them personally. A bridge collapse? It’s entertainment unless your cousin went over it 45 minutes before it happened and then you proudly send out emails declaring what a close call it was. Tornado whip through a campground in Florida? Well, the theme parks better be open today cause my kids are looking forward to it. Soldiers died in a war? It’s just a number until it’s someone from your hometown.

For Michael Moore, the plant closings by GM in Flint, Michigan were personal. His family had a long history of working for the company, and he knew how devastating the plant closings were going to be to his hometown. While the figure of 30,000 layoffs were just numbers to the rest of us who went Tsk, tsk! What a shame! and then went on about our regular business, he knew the real people that would affect.

To highlight this, Moore took a camera crew along as he tried to get an audience with GM CEO Roger Smith. This was the first film by Michael Moore. He claims the idea came to him after Roger Smith appeared on television to announce another round of layoffs. Moore provides a narrative to the events, chronicling his life in and around the city and around the corporation. This is intercut with his efforts to meet with Smith and have him come see for himself just what the layoffs he announced were doing to real people and real cities.

The idea was to show the reality of the layoffs; how it really affected real people, as well as the surrounding city. Moore does a terrific job at this too, contrasting what Flint was like before GM closed all the plants in favor of the cheap labor in Mexico with what it was like after. Seeing all the closed-off storefronts is sobering. An economic downturn if, say, the Chinese and Saudis decided they wanted to collect our national debt could make this scene repeated all over the nation. How’s that for personalizing it?

Flint went from having an estimated workforce of 80,000 working for General Motors in the 1970s to an estimated 8,000 today. Think about what that sort of job flight would do to your community. Hell, that’s more people than live year-round in the Valley I live in.

When then-President Ronald Reagan visited the laid-off workers, his solution was for them to get jobs in other states, such as Texas, with no consideration for the fact that they owned homes in Flint that they now couldn’t sell and were essentially stuck there. But that seems on par with the “just say no” answer to the drug epidemic instead of coming up with a real solution.

Moore also follows the local law enforcement around and he serves eviction notices. As I watched this, I kept wondering what the point was. I mean, there probably weren’t any gainfully employed people chomping at the bit to take the place of those being evicted. Not that I think the landlords should let them live there for altruistic reasons, but chances are if it was a foreclosure, the bank wasn’t going to be able to sell it to anyone else.

This is contrasted with executives of GM who were still living high on the hog in Grosse Point and other affluent areas nearby. As they are sitting in a perfectly manicured country club, the wives surmise that “those people could find jobs if they really wanted to”. They have no clue as Flint did try to reinvent itself, coming up with the idea of an indoor amusement park based around the auto industry with a Grand Hyatt attached to it. Both are now closed, and the city itself is in receivership to the state with over $35 million in debt.

The documentary goes off on tangents at times. I got a little bored with Moore’s biography which began the film. The repetitiveness of the evictions was grueling too. The inclusion of the former GM Employee who was now selling Amway was funny to an extent, but the inclusion of subsequent footage seemed to me as if Moore was just letting her look like a fool. I understand that’s his way of doing things at times – letting people hang themselves before the camera. That works brilliantly with a clip of Flint native Bob Eubanks who makes an infamous anti-Semitic joke in the film. However, when it’s done to this woman, it just seemed like an unnecessary dig. And I won’t even discuss the rabbit lady.

The only extra on the DVD is a commentary by Moore which was done in 2003. I listened to it all the way through and found it interesting as he updated a lot of the information given in the film. Moore also brings up a point during the commentary that I have often thought of. If these corporations keep “downsizing” and laying people off, what will happen when there are no people left to buy their products? What happens when we hit the threshold where we are employing more people out of the country than within and people can no longer find work that does more than pay for food and a roof over their heads (maybe)?

I think many people are afraid of what Moore has to say because it is true that it could happen to any of us at any time, and we don’t like the knowledge that we’re quite that vulnerable. People prefer to stick their heads in the sand and believe that it won’t ever happen to them because they’re doing it “right” and somehow these other people did it “wrong”.

All the people of Flint, Michigan did “wrong” was work for General Motors.


• Commentary by Michael Moore – done in 2003 after he won the Oscar for Bowling for Columbine
• Theatrical Trailer

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