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April 24, 1998

Michael Moore is a son of a bitch. But he's the kind of son of a bitch I think I would get along with. I mean, how can you hate a guy who says, 'If General Motors really wanted to turn a profit, they would have manufactured crack instead of cars'? Or this: 'GM makes about $1000 dollars profit on two tons of steal. Can you imagine the profit on two tons of crack'? And how could you hate a guy who barges into Johnson Control headquarters in Michigan and presents the company with a check for $.80 to cover the first hour of labor by one of its new Mexican workers?

Moore is a smart ass of the highest degree, a literal comic for the working class, and his hysterical new film, The Big One, has plenty of his smart-ass antics in top form. He examines 1996 presidential candidate Steve Forbes' inability to blink - and has both the footage to prove it AND a doctor's opinion that such actions are 'not human.' He talks with an ex-con who says TWA hired him while he was imprisoned to telemarket and take reservations for them. (Moore believes that that is reason enough to be polite to your next telemarketer, because if you piss him or her off, you might be receiving a 'special visit' very soon.) He even stops in with Rick Neilson of Cheap Trick and plays some Dylan tunes with him, talks with Studs Terkel, gets sex advice from Garrison Keillor....

It's all here, in The Big One, which documents Moore's journey across country to promote his 1996 book, Downsize This! and his juxtaposed examination of joblessness in our supposedly secure and profitable economy. And it all comes across with much comic and heartfelt style. You laugh, you feel sorry for the jobless, you laugh some more, you, with Moore, question the reasons behind the actions of big corporations. Why do big businesses, while claiming they long for a better America, close productive and profitable plants in America and move them to third-world nations? How much money is really enough when profit is already through the roof?

The Big One tries its hardest to answer these questions and have a lot of fun in the process. It does so with Moore's trademark filmmaking style: grainy, spontaneous photography. Improvised set ups. Celebrity cameos. Thoughts on unemployment. Moore's unexpected intrusions in on corporate headquarters in search of answers he's never given.

Moore is best known for his 1989 documentary, Roger & Me, which documented his attempts to talk to General Motors' Chairman Roger Smith about GM's massive layoffs in Flint, Michigan that year. The Big One reminded me a lot of Roger & Me, mainly because this film deals with many of the same ideas as that film. But this film has a larger scope than Roger & Me. It questions the topic of unemployment on a national level, rather than its effects on a community, and every stop Moore makes on his book tour seems to find some woe of unemployment behind it.

The film is sad to watch at times. Many of the people Moore confronts are really being 'screwed by the man.' It's hard not to feel badly for them. But we meet so many of them, and as a result, the film got a little repetitive for me. (Not that I don't feel for them! But if I'm looking at this movie as a form of entertainment... You see my point, don't you?) At about the three-quarters mark, I was hoping I would get to know someone better than as workers looking for something better. I wanted to feel the complexity of someone, like the sad bank forecloser from Roger & Me, rather than just hear complaints and plans of actions.

It's that sort of intimacy that The Big One needed to push it up to a higher notch. But instead, the movie keeps the problems it witnesses on the same plane and decides to fill in the intimacy gaps with humor. That's not to say that the humor is bad, it just limits things in a way, I think. But the humor is top-notch and very biting, and when it's at the focus, you're glued to the screen.

Perhaps the most vitriolic moment comes in the last twenty minutes of the film, when Moore gets to chat, one on one, with Nike CEO Phil Knight. Moore informs us that Nike does not make its sneakers in the U.S.A. anymore, that all shoes are manufactured in Indonesia by teenage girls, who get about four dollars a day to do their job. When Moore asks Knight why Nike, the most profitable sneaker company in the world, doesn't allow Americans to make their shoes, Knight instead of answering starts laughing uncontrollably. Then Knight finally says, 'Americans don't want to make shoes.' Then he continues his laughing.

It's obvious Knight's just mugging up to Moore's celebrity and his camera. Moore, of course, knows it, and Moore makes strong comic use of this shallowness. He literally turns Knight from a business genius to a giggling imbecile. But it's also obvious that Knight knows what he's doing. He doesn't answer any of Moore's questions, offers little advice, and shows us only one thing: that people will do anything to be in the movies.

And as an answer to the questions Moore poses throughout the film, this moment makes you think that, if nothing else, many of the other top executives are not too far behind Knight in their reasons.

about the author
Eyal Goldshmid
I am a fiction writer supporting myself as a government clerk for the US army. Until I can fully live off writing, I plan to milk all the luxury I can from the American taxpayer.

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