With Michael Moore’s permission, I downloaded and watched a leaked copy of Sicko, his documentary about the tragically compromised American health care system. You can do the same, if you’re thus inclined.
Moore is a master polemicist, and Sicko seems to be a distillation of techniques he toyed with in his earlier work. The film is essentially a series of anecdotes, and Moore spends the bulk of his time telling stories about the superiority of health care systems in Canada, UK, France and Cuba.
One thing I remember from theatre school is that 70% of directing is casting. Moore is exceptional at this, populating his film with the accessible, friendly, articulate people who can best support his thesis. Whether it’s a Ground Zero volunteer with untreated respiratory problems or a charming, wealthy English doctor, they play their supporting roles perfectly.
Combine his casting with a natural gift for cinematic storytelling, and you’ve got the makings of a great movie.
I was frustrated by the dearth of supporting facts and evidence, a departure from earlier films. Despite there being plenty of statistics to support his case, Moore rarely cited them. He relied more exclusively on his case studies. For example, the best he offered on Canada was that we have cheap drugs and a longer life expectancy (which may or may not be the result of better health care).
That makes for a more emotionally compelling film, but not necessarily an intellectually gratifying one.
There were also egregious sins of omission. For example, Cuba may have exceptionally-trained medical professionals, but they regularly struggle to obtain the equipment and medicine they need to care for their patients. That sort of thing is to be expected, though, in rhetorical work like this.
Maybe the facts were less necessary because his thesis–that the US health care system is deeply broken, and pales in comparison to other Western nations–was much less assailable. Of course, having enjoyed 30-odd years of Canadian medicine, I may just be biased.
In any case, every American ought to take a look at this film. Every Canadian too, so that we don’t take what we’ve got for granted.
UPDATE: I just browsed around and looked at some criticism of the film. Critics seem to be working way too hard to debunk Moore’s claims about Cuba. That’s an unfortunate red herring, and distracts from the core debate about American health care. Even if Moore’s critics are 100% correct and can emphatically prove that America’s system is superior to Cuba’s, isn’t that a dreadfully hollow victory?