+ "Sicko": "Sicko" is only open in New York this week, so we’ll be returning to it in the next as more reviews are published. So far, so relatively good for the latest film from Michael Moore, whose wielding of the documentary as a polemical tool has not always endeared him to cinephiles or those hoping for balance. J. Hoberman at the Village Voice notes that "[a]s filmmaking, Sicko sometimes resembles an infomercial for Ozark real estate and elsewhere demonstrates a Kenneth Anger-like flare for vertical montage." He finds the film’s collection of health care horror stories "devastating," but is troubled by Moore’s rose-colored portraits of the universal coverage in Canada, Great Britain, France, and, yes: "If the American health-insurance industry is Mooreâ€™s unspoken metaphor for Capital (feeding vampire-like on human labor), Cuba is his unconvincing socialist paradise."
At Salon, Stephanie Zacharek writes, "[W]hile ‘Sicko’ is, in my view, the most persuasive and least aggravating of all of Moore’s movies, it still bears many of the frustrating Moore earmarks — most notably, a deliberately simplistic desire to render everything in black-and-white terms, as if he didn’t trust his audience enough to follow him into some of the far more complex gray areas." Despite this, she finds "there’s plenty to admire and respect," though not as much as does A.O. Scott at the New York Times, who justifies what he admits is "a bit of theatrical faux-naÃ¯vetÃ©" on the filmmakers part by adding "Yes, the utopian picture of France in ‘Sicko’ may be overstated, but show me the filmmaker â€” especially a two-time Cannes prizewinner â€” who isnâ€™t a Francophile of one kind or another." He concludes that "’Sicko’ is the least controversial and most broadly appealing of Mr. Mooreâ€™s movies. (It is also, perhaps improbably, the funniest and the most tightly edited.)" Michael Koresky at indieWIRE suggest that "’Sicko’ must be tagged as a qualified success. At this point, it can’t be ignored that Moore is this country’s most popular and persuasive capturer of the details and nuances of the American lower middle class. And that’s no small accomplishment." And, according to Ed Gonzalez at Slant:
[W]ith Moore, it is almost necessary to take the good with the bad, and Sicko features some of the filmmaker’s more insightful and embarrassing moments… Only a monster would be unaffected by Sicko, but a smarter exposÃ© of our country’s health care system might openly argue that the tenets on which our government is built would need to be completely reconfigured for us to attain the basic right of universal health care.
+ "A Mighty Heart": There are two discussions dominating the reviews of Michael Winterbottom‘s depiction of the days following the kidnapping of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. First is the question of what the film’s purpose is in mining such a relatively recent tragedy, and second, and apparently more pressing, is the issue of Angelina Jolie, who plays Pearl’s widow, Mariane. So let’s start with that; it is the lamely glib basis of a decent portion of Anthony Lane‘s piece in the New Yorker, who finally comes around to write that "We brace ourselves for a star turn, a hundred minutes of vanity project, but hereâ€™s the thing: it never happens." J. Hoberman at the Village Voice observes:
No less than Jolie, the actual Mariane ascended the red carpet at Cannes; in the movie, her character is imagined as a star. Possessed of an iron will and a miraculous presence of mind, she’s surrounded by an entourage yet awesomely solitary in her tragic isolation. When the worst inevitably occurs, no one is able to hug or even comfort herâ€”she goes off alone. The movie is fundamentally a solo, and the creepiest thing about A Mighty Heart is the ease with which this terrible tale becomes a meditation on divadom.
At Slate, Dana Stevens adds that the final portion of the film is "a hagiographic chronicle of the martyrdom of Mariane Pearl": "After more than an hour of dense, layered storytelling that took pains
not to turn into The Angelina Jolie Show, it was baffling to watch A
Mighty Heart trade on Jolie’s status as tabloid saint, U.N. goodwill
ambassador, and all-around ‘best woman in the world.’" Mariane Pearl wasn’t "the real story" at the time, argues Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly, Daniel was, and "[d]espite the best of intentions, an actress who makes her own headlines gets in the way of the big picture." Ed Gonzalez at Slant, deeming the film "useless," does write that "Winterbottom recognizes the actress’s iconicity as a force that must be reckoned withâ€”which is to say, disguised. Except the tricks he employs to help the actress disappear into the film’s tapestry of uncertainty aren’t exactly new and reek of evasiveness." At the Onion AV Club, Scott Tobias lauds the way, "one major misstep aside, she slips into Winterbottom’s wide-ranging
procedural and asserts herself only when dramatically necessary."
As for the film itself, Manohla Dargis at the New York Times calls it "surprising, insistently political work of commercial art," suggesting that "in its modest, at times awkward, way, this little movie with the big movie star tries to bring us into a conversation that, at least in this country, is often relegated to the bummer front pages of your daily paper or glimpsed on television in between diet tips and, yes, news about Brangelina." The LA Weekly‘s Ella Taylor admires the way the film’s "primary purpose is to place us sympathetically inside Marianeâ€™s crisis, and only tangentially to parse the wider significance of this horrible event." Roger Ebert (!) agrees that the film "is notable for what it leaves out… What is best about ‘A Mighty Heart’ is that it doesn’t reduce the Daniel Pearl story to a plot, but elevates it to a tragedy."
"I think," reflects Stephanie Zacharek at Salon, "Winterbottom proceeds from the notion that politics always touch us personally, whether we’re aware of it or not, that things happening half a world away can change us, harm us or enrich us in ways we can never calculate." David Edelstein at New York notes that the film does not recreate Daniel Pearl’s videotaped death, something he’s both glad and regretful of: "Winterbottom shows admirable respect for Mariane Pearl and the memory of her husband, but the film needs an exclamation point, something visceral to drive home the fate of Daniel Pearl."
And at the New York Press, Armond White, no Winterbottom fan (he breaks out his favorite vilification, "smug"), writes that "While a simple tearjerker about a freedom-loving widow would risk an embarrassing emotional display, Pitt, Jolie and Winterbottom maintain their cool status with this fashionably cynical propaganda film. Its effect is not cathartic, just frustrating."