Filmmaker Michael Moore asks health care workers past and present about the pitfalls of health insurance in the American system; they all say the insurers impose so many restrictions that it is often difficult to have a claim accepted. On the other hand, without universal health care, the most vulnerable members of society - who can't afford even the troublesome health care there is - are left to fend for themselves. Moore visits Canada, where his parents offer evidence on Canada's universal health care. He also visits England and France for further comparisons to show up the deficiency in the US. He demonstrates how generous the health care system is in both countries, before taking some firemen suffering post 9/11 symptoms to Cuba, where they receive free the medical treatment they should have got back home.
Review by Louise Keller:
I bet Michael Moore was a handful at school. He probably ran rings around many of his teachers, but could well have been popular with his peers, with his uncanny ability to take a serious topic and look at it from all vantage points, including the ridiculous. That's what makes his documentaries so entertaining. In his latest, Sicko, he cuttingly dissects the American health system, using it as a gateway to explore the quality of our lives. From the parochial to the broad picture, Moore takes us on a riveting journey filled with gashes, sutures and epidurals, where we find ourselves informed, appalled, intrigued, moved and amused. It's potent stuff as Moore picks at the scab of health care until it oozes with pus and impertinence.
Firstly, Moore puts a human face on health issues, by introducing us to a handful of American citizens who have health care horror stories to tell. We are told the definition of a good medical director is one who saves dollars, not lives, as Moore delves deeper and deeper, prising open ugly truths, and touching on America's political health strategies (a la Nixon, Hillary Clinton and Bush). 'Everybody loves their mother,' is the slogan for Bush's 2003 modernisation act that focuses on senior citizens, a sentiment Moore can't resist reinforcing (he also dedicates the film to his mother).
The biggest surprise is the giant step Moore takes, venturing beyond the US to Canada, England, France and Cuba, comparing those countries' philosophies on health care with that of his homeland. How ridiculous it seems that a US citizen can drive over the border to Canada to receive free health care (alternatively he simply needs to marry a Canadian), or that a French citizen who has lived in the States for 18 years can return to Paris for free treatment (and a holiday in the South of France) on discovering he has a tumour. Yes, it's a set up, but the boat trip that takes Moore and a bunch of sickos to Guantanamo Bay, highlights the curious point that terrorists held prisoner receive a higher level of care that the heroes of 9/11 and other US citizens.
Who can resist applying for a French visa when there's free health care, free childcare and college education, a 35 hour week, 5 weeks annual holiday plus unlimited sick leave, honeymoon leave, and the Government pays for someone to do your laundry while caring for your new baby. And the wine's good too! No wonder the French sing 'C'est Si Bon'! Moore makes all his points with panache, leaving us with plenty to cogitate on, debate and chuckle about. I like Moore's twisted sense of humour as the seminal 60s tune 'Eve of Destruction' plays over the closing credits - in French.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Entertaining in a depressing kind of way, Sicko purports to show up US health care as US health don't care. (I say purports because after his truth-bending ways in films like Columbine, one never knows how much of what is presented is 100% true.) But it does seem that US health insurers are rapacious, thieving, immoral, heartless and evil. Michael Moore has collected examples of homeless patients being despatched from one hospital by taxi to the doors of a charity as a way of getting them off their hands. Other examples include ex-employees of health insurers confessing their sins of denying health insurance claims on the flimsiest technicality; horror stories of accident victims billed for ambulance fees because their insurer requires absurd conditions that can't be met.
Moore then takes his camera to Canada, the UK and France, where we see him stunned by incredulity at what looks like health care utopia. In one London hospital he finds the cashier desk is used only to pay money OUT - to patients who've had to pay travel/ taxi costs to get there for their free medical care. In France, the Government even sends a nanny to new mums, who will cook dinner if required, as well as care for the baby. Why don't Americans demand better health care? Well, we are told that in France the Government is afraid of the people, but in the US, the people are afraid of the Government. To prove the point, Moore shows several clips of French protest marches - though why these ungrateful wretches living in health care paradise are protesting isn't clear. They have at least 5 weeks paid holidays, as well as generous paid parenting leave, and work a 35 hour week.
But the thrust of Sicko, that the US health industry has politicians in its pocket (and politicians have health industry cash in theirs) is an urgent and real issue. The film may be unnecessarily manipulative, but that's Moore. His biggest mistake is to succumb to the temptation of cheap (and unreliable) shots by taking a handful of firemen suffering post-9/11 symptoms (and some others) to Cuba to show how even this evil Communist dictatorship can do better than the US in providing medical services to the needy - free. In this case, even tourists.
The price of this stunt's entertainment value is that it diminishes the film's impact as a socially important documentary with the potential to make a difference for the better. But it does have fun with its serious subject matter.
Email this article
AUDIO CLIP - Michael Moore in Cannes
MICHAEL MOORE INTERVIEW (Cannes 2007)
CAST: Documentary featuring Michael Moore
PRODUCER: Michael Moore, Meghan O'Hara
DIRECTOR: Michael Moore
SCRIPT: Michael Moore
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Christoph Vitt
EDITOR: Geoffrey Richman, Christopher Seward, Dan Swietlik
MUSIC: Erin O'Hara
PRODUCTION DESIGN: n/a
RUNNING TIME: 118 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 9, 2007