DanvilleSanRamon.com

Living - July 13, 2007

Movie review: Sicko ****

Rating: Rating: PG-13 for brief strong language. 1 hours, 56 minutes.

After accidentally sawing off the tips of two fingers, Rick had to choose between restoring his middle one for $60,000 or his ring finger for $12,000. Laura was involved in a head-on car collision, and her insurance company refused to pay her ambulance bill because she failed to obtain pre-approval. Cancer survivor Donna and her cardiac-patient husband could no longer keep their home after insurance costs wiped them out financially.

These are only three of the health care horror stories in Oscar-winning director Michael Moore's most recent attempt to kick-start a movement through a movie. The populist agitator asked his Web site visitors to send their insurance-company experiences to him. More than 25,000 e-mails arrived in the first week alone.

"Sicko" looks at the lucky Americans, the 250 million who have private health care insurance. Applying the Moore method of documentary filmmaking, the director of "Bowling for Columbine" and "Fahrenheit 9/11" combines humor with tales of personal tragedy - and then veers into audacious, unexpected territory. The folksy firebrand again puts himself in front of the camera, making his position clear: His nonfiction film functions as a personal essay that includes pointed commentary, offers a politically charged vision and raises big questions. He's not interested in providing a forum for opposing viewpoints.

As Moore's most brilliantly structured work, "Sicko" starts off with ordinary Americans whose claims and coverage have been denied for ridiculous reasons. Close-ups capture their emotional testimonies, appealing to our hearts more than our minds. Then doctors and industry insiders testify about how insurance companies maximize profits by keeping benefits from the premium-paying patients who need them.

How did this start? In an Oval Office audiotape predating Richard Nixon's National Health Strategy of 1971 - a program that promoted private-sector HMOs - John Ehrlichman assures the President that "all the incentives are towards less medical care." The Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, don't escape Moore's accusatory finger of being bought off by health care lobbyists. Politics and profit enter the picture.

Making a plea for universal health care, Moore-at-his-comic-best ventures to Canada, England and France before leading a delegation of sick 9/11 rescue workers to the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. Shouldn't these heroes, who have been denied U.S. medical attention, get the same top-notch health care as the Al Qaeda evildoers? The filmmaker's unexpected and confrontational antics elicit laughter while providing some surprisingly poignant moments.

Eventually the rumpled rabble-rouser throws his questioning back at us: "Who are we? A nation that dumps its own citizens like garbage on the curb because they can't pay their medical bills?"

Like Al Gore's documentary hit, Moore cleverly prods us to consider and act upon some inconvenient truths.

--Susan Tavernetti

For more movie reviews or local show times, go to www.DanvilleWeekly.com

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