June 28, 2007


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Sicko (R)
MMichael Moore scares the pants off you (and don't trip on those pants, because such an injury might not be covered in your health plan) with Sicko, a completely terrifying but thoroughly engrossing documentary about health care in America.

You can keep your Hostel IIs and your Saw IIIs Sicko is by far the most keep-me-up-at-night, shiver-down-the-spine movie I've seen in years. Having a serial killer torture you with rib-splitters and skin-eating acid is nothing compared to the thought of getting cancer or some other kind of serious, expensive disease and having to fight with your HMO about whether or not a lifesaving procedure is really medically necessary. In this movie, people no different than me find themselves faced with luxury-car-sized medical bills because of insurance company tomfoolery.

In fact, this movie's so scary that it almost scares me to talk about it. What if my insurance company reads it and gets angry and decides that it wants to drop me, leaving me at the whims of the limited and often expensive self-funded medical options? Is "tomfoolery" too harsh?

Please, Mr. HMO guy, I don't get sick much, I don't see a doctor that often. Please don't make me buy my prescriptions on the open market.

Moore, who stumbled a bit with the partisan rage that seemed to fuel Fahrenheit 9/11, is back at peak Bowling for Columbine and Roger & Me form here. This movie, he explains, is not about the millions of Americans who don't have health insurance (though we meet some of those, such as the guy who sawed off a few fingers and, lacking insurance, had to pick which ones to sew back on, ultimately picking the cheaper one). It's about the ones who do and how those insurance plans often let them down. We meet health insurance industry types who seem eager to confess what they feel are the rotten ways they've treated clients. We meet a guy who used just the possibility of a Michael Moore visit to that company to muscle his HMO into giving his daughter cochlear implants in both ears (not just the one, as they originally offer). We meet a wife who's husband died after an HMO turned down his request for a procedure that they deemed experimental. We meet old people dropped off on L.A.'s skid row because hospitals needed t
o boot their non-paying patients.

And just when these stories get you good and scared, Moore introduces you to people who get you good and mad. You know who I'm talking about Canadians.

OK, I'm sure their program isn't perfect what is? And save your live-tax-free-or-die arguments for another day. When Canadians get sick, they get service. Also? The British. Also? The French. Oh, you don't even want to know about the French, especially when it comes to having children and the government help that comes with that. We meet British doctors living swank upper-class lives despite being paid by the government. We meet French people who don't make all that much but still feel free of the stresses of worrying about health care (and day care damn surrender monkeys and their universally available, clean and seemingly-beneficial-to-their-children day care).

And yes, we even meet some Cuban doctors. In the movie's final act, Moore introduces us to rescue workers who spent significant time at the World Trade Center site after Sept. 11. Their work there left them with an assortment of ailments pulmonary problems, mental health issues that their insurance companies either won't cover, won't cover any more or won't cover well. Moore explains that the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay get good, government-provided care so he's taking these 9/11 rescue workers to the one place in America with universal care.

Naturally, they don't get in to that holding tank for "evil-doers" and the group winds up at a Cuban hospital. There, they find their medications for much cheaper than they pay in the U.S. and they get help for their ailments and treatment plans to take with them. Sure, this is a stunt but it's a good one the scenes of these workers getting the care they've been desperate for are some of the most openly emotional in the movie (by design, naturally). And, to some extent, so what if Fidel funded their care? They're sick people who couldn't get the help they needed and then they could. The Cuban doctors offer basic human compassion does it make me any less patriotic and free-market loving red-blooded American to recognize that?

And, I guess, that's what this movie comes down to the argument that you can be a patriotic American and a capitalist and still say, "hey, this health care thing, we really need to do something." Moore makes that argument well. There was a forced, shrill quality that made Fahrenheit 9/11 too strident and not, well, documentary-y enough that is gone here. Here are his facts, here's his opinion and here's his point Moore does this with passion and humor but also with the kind of nerdy, reportery attention to detail that has made some of his other movies such entertaining analyses of an issue.

It's very likely that you've already decided if you agree with Moore or not and, from that, if you're going to see the movie or not. Forget all that. Don't go in as a fundamentalist member of the social medicine choir; don't go in as a privatize-the-military libertarian. You will enjoy the movie more if you go in open-minded and make up your mind about who you agree with and disagree with after it's over. It's a solid enough piece of film that it's worthy of your attentions regardless of your beliefs.

And, heck, a scary summer movie that doesn't need CGI? That alone is worth seeing. A

Rated PG-13 for brief strong language (both the onscreen language and probably the language you'll use after seeing it). Written and directed by Michael Moore, Sicko is an hour and 53 minutes and is distributed by Lionsgate. It will open in wide release on June 29