Michael Moore. Love him or hate him, he's certainly got the world's attention, and the truth is that people will be queuing up to see this movie no matter what the likes of me have to say about it. In this case, most of them will leave feeling it was worth their while - but whether or not it amazes them will depend largely on which side of the Atlantic they live on.

Here in the UK, where the vast majority of people use the NHS, it's hard to imagine a situation in which one might depend on an insurance company to provide for essential medical treatment. In the US, of course, the opposite is true. Test audience members over there have commented that until they saw this film, they never thought of living any other way. But although Moore goes to some trouble to explore what life is like in countries with state medical provision, he's not just concerned with advocating that kind of change for its own sake. What he sets out to expose - doing so very effectively - is the corruption inherent in the US system.

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Wisely avoiding the issue of what life is like for those who can't afford insurance at all, Moore concentrates on the experiences of people who have turned to their insurers in times of need only to be let down. We hear stories of treatment options dismissed because they could be labeled 'non-essential' or 'experimental' (often after years of common use), and of the people who died as a result. We meet 9/11 volunteer emergency workers rejected by both their insurers and the government and suffering from serious respiratory ailments as a consequence of the help they gave to others. We meet a little girl who got the cochlear implants she needed only after Moore's own name was mentioned.

It's here that the film becomes uncomfortable. What could have been a powerful, hard-hitting film - there are many impressive contributors and great work has been done uncovering genuinely scandalous evidence - too often feels like The Michael Moore Show. His gratuitous stunts (such as trying to sail to Guantanamo Bay) sit uneasily alongside the real suffering on display. It's not that serious topics like this can't benefit from the injection of a little humour, but this seems to be more about ego, especially the revelation that he sent a cheque to the sick wife of the founder of critical site Moorewatch. In trying to lead a movement for social change, he appears to have mistaken himself for a hero, something no serious journalist can afford to do.

Despite this problem, Sicko is an interesting film with a lot of very important things to say. Particularly fascinating is an old recorded interview which traces the problems with America's health industry back to none other than Richard Nixon, emerging from the shadows like the classic movie villain he always resembled. There are typically astute contributions from Tony Benn, and a number of powerful interviews with doctors and insurance workers who reveal how they were pressured to deny people coverage for medical treatment which they knew they desperately needed. It would be nice to think that, as a result of this film, something could really change. That may depend on whether or not anyone other than Moore's existing sympathisers is still watching.

Reviewed on: 20 Oct 2007
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Sicko packshot
Michael Moore investigates corruption in the American health insurance industry.
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Read more Sicko reviews:

Chris ****1/2
Jeff Robson ***1/2

Director: Michael Moore

Writer: Michael Moore

Starring: Michael Moore, George W. Bush, Reggie Cervantes, John Graham, William Maher, Richard Nixon, Linda Peeno

Year: 2007

Runtime: 113 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US


London 2007

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