NYFF 2015 Documentary Film Review: "Where To Invade Next" (Written & Directed by Michael Moore)
Michael Moore is the rare documentarian who explicitly and without a filter, tells it like it is. From his scathing assault on George W. Bush and the Iraq War (2004’s “Fahrenheit 9/11”) to his in-your-face dissection of gun ownership and NRA lobbying with 2002’s unsettling “Bowling For Columbine”, to his breakout hit 1989’s “Roger & Me” which pointedly commented on the oil industry in the context of his hometown of Flint, Michigan, the no-holds-barred writer-director represents the genuine voice of the 99%. His latest, which merges his trademark snark and satire along with the acid-quick commentary that he’s become known for throughout his career, Moore decidedly turns the tables on us altogether by seeking a different set of answers to this burning question: What have other developed nations adopted into their culture and citizenry to make them more successful than the United States? His results, in a word, will surprise you.
If you are a seasoned Moore documentary watcher, you already know how refreshingly he is able to open the can of worms on all sorts of pressing issues with a substantial grasp on the most hot-button of talking points. He doesn’t just talk, but his films contain a mastery of the use of clips, photos, and mostly archival footage to drive his presentation home in one slam-dunk of a convincing and unflinching package. Moore really busted out onto the scene at the dawn of the new millennium when he directed the music video for politically charged rap/rock group Rage Against The Machine for their track “Sleep Now In The Fire” which attacked big money, banks and Wall Street corporate greed many years before the economic collapse we faced. Call it prophetic, perhaps, but you got to give him credit for having his trigger/shutter-finger at the ready. Even before he started making films in the public eye, he was an outspoken and vigilant critic of the immorality of the US government.
So, what exactly does “Where To Invade Next” offer its audience other than an extremely enticing title? Plenty. Prior to the NYFF screening, Moore candidly introduced his film with the best phrase he could muster: “When making this film, I wanted to pick the roses, not the weeds”. In other words, unlike his past documentaries which looked at the negative and downright evil aspects of United States injustices, this film’s thesis involves him visiting different countries like Norway, Italy, France, and even Tunisia (a country within North Africa), to name a few, to sample and find out how they run things in order to illuminate their immense successes. Taking trips to these countries’ prisons, schools, abortion clinics, and judicial buildings, Moore comes to the rather astounding realization that these other places have taken selective steps to ensure a well-balanced and very human and self-sustaining culture that don’t involve complex restructuring. Little things like giving factory workers more time off during the year or believing in rehabilitation over brutal punishment for incarcerated inmates’ results in significantly better quality of life for all. Moore, many times throughout, was aghast at his findings and the fact that a number of these places citizens all echoed the same thing: they borrowed their practices from our founding fathers’ version of the US Constitution and instead of rejecting the majority of it, put it entirely to practice. Suffice to say, from this reviewers perspective, my blood was boiling by the time the credits rolled.
Despite the heavy aspects and nuances of this film, Moore’s humor was as much in-tact as it’s been since his most formative features. His last film, 2009’s “Capitalism: A Love Story” was well-intentioned but messy in exploring the steep price Americans have paid for its pro-capitalist leanings and support. By visiting financial institutions and even marching to Washington to speak with the POTUS and get his take, the former film didn’t bring to light anything that was as revelatory as his first features. Thankfully, this current one is a major return to form and it’s clear that this was a personal passion project for him all the way through. A running gag throughout had Moore planting an American flag in each of the areas he visited with the righteous notion that he would report back to the powers that be within the US and bestow his insights in order to stoke the fires for true change. It is my hope, as well as his, that “Where To Invade Next” will have mandatory screenings in elementary, middle and high schools so that the still-uncorrupted youth of the next generation of Americans will take his mission to heart and when they come of age will be able to turn back the vast destruction and burden placed upon them by their elders.
Lastly, I will say that this is an all-ages film so there ought to be no reservations about who ought to see it. I would go so far as to say it is essential particularly when considering the current, tumultuous climate that exists now. These other countries have actualized the closest on-record of a utopia that is truly in the realm of possibility. If the US hopes to survive the quarter century, Moore attests that we start instituting the necessary changes to revitalize our society and keep it from torpedoing toward oblivion. Because, you know, it all starts with one.