Thursday, February 3, 2011

#49: Sicko

Closing in on this mini-milestone of 50 movie reviews in as nearly as many days and looking back on the 48 before this, I realised I was yet to review any animation or documentary. Since the latter genre is a more personal favorite, I picked up Michael Moore's Sicko.

Released in 2007, Sicko is a scathing attack on the health welfare issues in the US or more specifically the modus operandi of the private-owned Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs). As is his forte, any Michael Moore documentary will be narrated by himself, have lots of stock footage, comprise elements of some serious secondary research and oodles of sarcastic wit. Sicko is no different. What's good is that, it's even more. For one, it is not a uni-dimensional topic. Moore smartly extends the topic of healthcare to a subject about standard of living and gives examples from countries as different as France, Great Britain, Norway and Cuba to drive home his point. This helps the viewer grasp the substance of the documentary quite effectively.

The issue of health care has been a US national debate for donkey's years. So whether it's Hillary's outspoken 'socialized medicine' efforts that never really took wing or Barack Obama's recent health care bill, the issue always made news but no one really knew the bearings of it. What Moore succeeds in doing is breaking down the nuts and bolts of the entire system of healthcare down to it's bare essentials. In doing so, he not only takes a route that's educational for a layman but also entertaining. So while there are quite a few grim moments, you don't sit in shock and awe as you probably did during Fahrenheit 911 or Bowling for Columbine. In character and the route it takes to making the point, the movie's closer to the style of the causal but no-nonsense Roger and Me. More than the real people who have been adversely affected by the vagaries of HMO policies, the movie's biggest strength is the research and the statistics it uses to explain the difference between health care policies in the US and elsewhere in the world. Each patient who has been depicted in the main feature has a poignant story to tell and Moore uses his wit to devastating effect in making a harsh indictment of the whimsical and the wayward approach of the HMOs towards it's patients. One particular segment about the treatment meted to old-age poor patients by private hospitals is deeply moving and will dampen your eyes sooner than you will ever know.

The only fault I could find with Sicko is this tiny sub-angle towards the end whereby the movie indulges in an over-the-top approach in showcasing how relations between Cuba and US should've been better. The seems completely out of place as it indulges itself in a bit of emotional jingoism instead of staying sensitive to the key theme of the movie. There's also another part whereby Moore showcases his own altruistic nature towards a critic that works as the equivalent of giving oneself a handsome pat on the back for a job well done.

Having said that, one can't take anything away from Moore for making a documentary that highlights several burning issues that a government really ought to take care of. He doesn't play safe and goes all out against some of the biggest names in the current US political system and because Bush is not his only target, it is also fun to watch. All in all, Sicko is worth every minute you spend watching it. But what makes it even more remarkable is the fact that it's also worth every minute you think about the movie days after you've seen it.

And that is always the indelible mark of a very special piece of filmmaking.

Rating: 7.5/10