The Big One
directed by Michael Moore
Miramax, 1997

In 1989, Michael Moore befuddled the movie world with his handmade documentary, Roger and Me, a good-natured stalker film with simplest of premises: Moore crisscrossing the country trying to interview General Motors CEO Roger Smith about the closing of GM's plant in Flint, Mich.

Now Moore is back, and he's bigger, if not better, than ever with The Big One, another handmade documentary that takes corporate America to task for its manifold sins.

This time it's a book tour that starts Moore's wheels spinning. Random House, inspired by skyrocketing sales of Moore's book, Downsize This: Random Threats from an Unarmed American, offers to send Moore on a 47-city book-signing tour. Moore accepts, and uses the opportunity to needle corporations from coast to coast, even Random House itself, which, Moore claims, "digitally manicured" his fingernails on his book-jacket photo.

Like Roger and Me, The Big One is a fast-paced combination of cinema verite and astute setups, culminating in a one-on-one interview with Nike CEO Phil Knight, whom Moore takes to task for shipping jobs overseas, primarily to Indonesia, where he has 14-year-old Indonesians making shoes for 40 cents an hour.

But long before he gets to Oregon, Moore talks to Borders' employees who have a health plan but no doctor; the workers at a Payday candy bar plant which is being shut down because, an official claims, they were too productive; and an ex-convict who worked as a reservations taker for TWA while he was in prison.

On a more absurd note, Moore takes a troop of welfare women to the office of Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, ostensibly to show him how well they can work if given the opportunity, and hands the "Downsizer of the Year Award" to some very deserving corporations.

Just about everywhere he goes, Moore gets thrown out. And, as in Roger and Me, his somewhat rough-hewn crew keeps the camera rolling. The results are sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes hilarious, as Moore gets people to talk about their jobs and the effects downsizing has had on their lives, then cross cuts their angst with the office-speak coming from the middle managers and security people sent to send Moore on his way. You can't miss the satire.

But just in case you do, Moore has added a darker element to The Big One that was missing in his earlier films: some out-and-out editorializing about our "sick society." That gives The Big One a nasty edge at times, almost to the point of undercutting his own satiric thrust.

Fortunately, Moore recovers his sense of balance -- and irony -- in time to bring the film to an optimistic, and hysterical, conclusion -- or series of conclusions. Don't rewind this one 'til you've seen the final credit.

The great kings of Europe once licensed their fools to criticize them in ways no other subject was allowed to. The great corporations of America -- a.k.a. The Big One -- are not so wise. Lucky for us, Mr. Moore is.

[ by Miles O'Dometer ]

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