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Corporate Raider.

By Coury Turczyn

OCTOBER 26, 1998:  The first thing you notice about blue collar crusader Michael Moore is the smirk—despite his best efforts to look serious, attentive, or even concerned, the smirk continually plays at his lips like an irresistible force of his inner self. But it is a defensive smirk, one spawned by a deep frustration with what he sees as the heartless, often brainless, treatment of American workers by their bottom-line obsessed overlords.

In The Big One, his latest documentary, he travels the nation on a promotional tour for his 1996 book Downsize This! Along the way, he witnesses large-scale layoffs despite the country's seeming prosperity. Why? Corporations are opting to close factories here and open new ones in third-world countries in order to increase their profit margins through cheap labor. What kind of reward is this to American workers who have helped their companies earn record profits to begin with? This is the question Moore wants answered—and he's willing to barge into corporate headquarters, cameras blazing, to demand an answer. Although he usually gets booted from the building by security officers, he also gets to harangue pathetic PR drones, which is always entertaining to watch—will this be the first one to finally break down and admit that he works for a compassionless machine? More important are the mind-boggling facts brandished by Moore—that our government pays Pillsbury millions to market the "Dough Boy" overseas, or that TWA uses imprisoned murderers and rapists to take flight reservations. Occasionally, though, Moore's soapbox looks more like a grandstand, particularly in long scenes where downtrodden workers gaze at him in adoration and tell him how much he means to them. And if he hates corporations so much, why did he go with Random House as a publisher, or make appearances at Borders and Media Play? These are questions Moore sidesteps in the film, smirk in place.

The documentary that catapulted Moore into the realm of famous angry liberal was 1989's Roger & Me, his record of the decline of his hometown of Flint, Mich. after General Motors closed its factories there. Much more personal than The Big One, its story is that much more affecting—funny yet sad, Flint's descent into desperation and ruin could be the story of any city hit by massive layoffs. Controversial for its supposed jumbling of chronology, Roger & Me is nevertheless fascinating in its portrayal of, well, weird people in a weird town. Moore's dogged pursuit of GM chairman Roger Smith is just the icing on the cake. And although our economy seems a long way from 1989, the lessons of Roger & Me aren't yet outdated—corporate rapaciousness is timeless.


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