Michael Moore is controversial, even among people who agree with him. My general take is that while he is willing to talk about issues that need to be talked about and take on subject matter others shy away from, he is sometimes entirely too centered on entertaining at the same time. The result often is a film that usually has some very good points, but also plays games with the facts in order to go for a laugh or to entertain.
The Big One sounded like more of the same. The promotional blurb made it sound like Moore was taking on the common corporate practice of downsizing while at the same time American corporations were posting record profits. Unfortunately, instead of the pseudo-documentaries Moore often produces, this film ended up feeling more like a concert tour.
The Big One starts out by Moore doing what almost seems like a stand-up routine sending presidential candidates donations from really hideous groups. And they cashed them. It then segues into what seems like Moore just going around talking to people, but the showcase initially is on him and what he’s doing, not the people he’s talking to. It’s not like other Moore films. It’s a shame because the subject matter is so important, especially now all these years later as we are watching the economy in free-fall.
All of these events happen while he’s on a tour for his newest book, Downsize This: Random Threats From An Unarmed American. While the book might have had some very good points about the subject, this film never gets there. Instead, it follows Moore around from city to city as he signs books and talks to people. He also spends a lot of time dissing the “handlers” that his publisher, Random House, sends to help him out at various locations. Very little time is actually devoted to the subject of downsizing and corporate America.
At one point, Moore seems to have something dropped in his lap. When he visits the town of Centralia, Illinois, he learns about a company shutting down a plant there that made Payday bars. It wasn’t that the plant wasn’t profitable – it made $20 million in profit a year. It wasn’t that the workers were demanding – there had never been a strike in the plant’s history. The issue was that it wasn’t profitable enough. For this, the company was putting people out of work who had worked for them for 20, 30, even 50 years.
The next corporation he finds doing something similar is Johnson Controls. They are closing a plant and putting people out of work in Milwaukee after making a half a billion dollars in profits in the previous three years. The explanation is that they are “remaining competitive” by paying Mexican workers eighty cents an hour as opposed to the wages of a typical American worker.
Moore also exposes the issue of Corporations using prisoners to do some of the work. On the surface, it sounds like a good idea for rehabilitating prisoners. However, the Corporations get away with paying these workers $2 an hour for manufacturing jobs, telemarketing jobs, etc. It’s an issue no different than the illegal immigration debate.
At times, The Big One seems to be about the 1996 election, and how all of the candidates were pretty crappy choices in most people’s opinions. Other times, it seems to be about the topic of corporate downsizing. It’s also an excuse to follow Moore around on his book tour. The whole production is scattered and disjointed. I saw some of this in Bowling for Columbine, but it’s really an epidemic here. There are so many tangents he goes on that he seems to play just for laughs and then drops it entirely.
The pacing is totally off as well, which is no surprise considering how scattered Moore was with the topic. At times it was interesting and seemed as well-paced as Roger & Me. Other times it drags. There were also moments after the segment had changed that I wondered what the point was of the previous one and why it was included in the film. Too much was thrown in and seemed to be with the thought that it was funny so they wanted it in the film – who cared if it was suitable to the topic or not.
I also didn’t care for how Moore treated the representatives of his publisher. Hey, he wrote a book. His publisher is paying him money to write a book. The book tour goes along with that and he really doesn’t seem to be complaining about the tour. However, when the people who are working with the publisher, who are just doing their job, annoy him, he seems to feel it’s okay to use them as the butt of some jokes. These segments come off more like high school film where one person gets the chance to mock another and the audience is simply supposed to go along with it because the protagonist is “cool”. I don’t like it in those movies and I don’t like it here, either.
The one bright spot in The Big One is that Moore does pin down the CEO of Nike, Phil Knight, on the subject of outsourced labor and child labor. Knight was specifically cited in the book Moore is promoting, and his wife is the one who is pushing him to atone himself with Moore. What happens is quite interesting as it seems Moore extracts a promise from Knight and Nike, only to watch him backpedal in the end.
However, this one good exchange can’t make up for all the problems in The Big One. I was disappointed with it. I’ve always been able to look at Moore’s films with a critical eye and this one just doesn’t measure up to his usual material.
Categories: Movie Reviews