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Sicko is softer-hitting and more centrist than anything Michael Moore has done—but that's not to say it has a soft center. This time, the documentarian documents instead of starting fires, and he even entertains. It is, shall we say, the Switzerland of his oeuvre.


Anybody who goes to see Michael Moore's latest documentary will have already taken a side. No, not republican/democrat or love him/hate him, but rather insured/uninsured. Some 50 million Americans are currently without health insurance and 18,000 of them will die as a result. But, Moore says, "This movie isn't about those people; it's about the ones who have insurance." His monotone and occasionally mock-somber narration in full swing, Moore first takes us on a trek stateside, offering a vast array of "our own people" who have been wronged by America's healthcare system. From subjects whose medical costs have so depleted their finances that they're forced to move in with their children, to posthumous testimonials from people who were denied necessary operations by their frugal insurance companies, the gamut is run by Moore's case studies (God knows how many didn't make the cut). Next he takes us to his favorite place: non-America. This documentary around, he doesn't stop at Canada to prove his point(s), venturing to Britain and France where healthcare go-betweens are obsolete and medicine is only a doctor-patient relationship—everybody is insured, aka socialized medicine. Sicko's third act marks the return of Michael Moore the Patriot. He sets sail, along with various casualties of our flawed system—chief among them 9/11 workers whose resultant ailments were neglected by the government that once branded them "heroes"—for Guantanamo Bay to ask for the same free medical attention given to the detainees housed there. Upon arriving in Cuba and seeking the free healthcare in earnest, Moore concludes with a "We're not so different, you and me" message and bigger-picture imagery he hopes we won't soon forget: the perceived Goliath at the mercy of the perceived David, begging for help.


Although Red-staters might beg to differ, no actors are used in Sicko. But Moore himself has become quite a character—or, as some might again interject, a caricature. Moore doesn't appear until roughly midway through, but, be him your hero or lightning rod or bull's-eye during shooting practice, his face is something of an antidote when it pops up. In Sicko, he's often comic relief amid sob stories, even going so far as to, under his director guise, quick-cut certain scenes for comedic effect. Was he possibly influenced by another investigative "journalist"—Borat Sagdiyev? Given Borat's success at making America the butt of the joke, it's possible. Either way, Moore's delayed in-front-of-the-camera presence is very cinematic, almost like delaying the appearance of a much-hyped protagonist (or, of course, antagonist).


Usually, critiquing a Michael Moore film is akin to outing oneself politically, but there's not much to gripe about this time. (Whew!) Perhaps more mature or just older and wiser, the director ceases launching most personal attacks, which do little more than further divide a nation he is supposedly trying to unite, and instead zeroes in on the problem. It's a less incendiary Michael Moore, this 2007 version, and it's almost as if his producer wife said to the notorious Bush-whacker, "OK, honey, you can have a handful of veiled republican attacks—use them wisely." He did. There's the obligatory opening-scene footage of George Dubya swallowing his own foot, but the attacks thereafter are vitriol-free. As for his direction, it speaks volumes about the prevalence of the healthcare problem that Moore didn't have to resort to his more guerrilla tactics to document it—everyone has a story and the dirt is so omnipresent that there's not much digging for Moore to do (except for some, uh, insightful audio footage of the Nixonian origins of HMOs). But overall, Sicko's core and intentions, if not its resolutions, are hard to argue. His detractors nonetheless won't leave the theater (or the computer screen, for the many who have watched the leaked version) without their fodder. And truth be told, it's hard to imagine it was all utopia all the time during his worldwide voyage. In addition, it would've been nice to see more, if not all, of the documentary shed light on how such an unhealthy nation can better avoid trips to the doctor in the first place. But it's hard to be picky, because for one weekend, there could actually be a miniscule decline in the amount of Paris Hilton chatter in this country. That's thanks to Michael Moore, and that is power!

Bottom Line rated this film 3 1/2 stars.