Roger & Me (1989)
After seeing Michael Moore’s latest effort Where to Invade Next (see my review this issue), I was immediately reminded of his first effort, the playful but incisive documentary Roger & Me. Back in 1989 Moore was younger, slimmer, and not as overtly angry as he would later become.
The trademarks of Moore’s documentary style are all here…the humor, the extensive use of vintage footage, the sense of quiet outrage, and his unabashedly liberal point-of-view. Moore has no intention of being objective which calls into question whether Roger & Me is a true documentary.
Yes and no. The facts it presents are real and the footage is real it’s just manipulated by Moore to help achieve the points he wants to make. Using humor to criticize and illuminate is the classic definition of satire so what we have here is a “satirementary”. It may not have been pioneered by Michael Moore but no one does it better.
The topic is the closing of the General Motors auto plant in Moore’s hometown of Flint, Michigan (now sadly back in the news for a much more devastating reason). Moore sets out to interview the then head of General Motors, Roger Smith, about why the plant was closed. Along the way he makes several astute social and economic observations about the America of the 1980s.
Of course he never does interview Smith. That was never really the point. The point is to show how corporate profits are obtained at the expense of a loyal workforce and how greed is destroying working and middle class America. The vintage footage and the interviews with Miss Michigan (later Miss America 1988) and Bob Eubanks of The Dating Game expose the hypocrisy and the ignorance at work in the American mindset.
The most disturbing thing about Roger & Me is that it was made almost 30 years ago and that the things Moore shines a light on have only gotten worse. It may also explain why his later documentaries lost the playful tone that he uses here (and recovered in Where to Invade Next). If you want to see the seeds The Big Short in both style and content, this is where you start.
At press time the Academy Awards have not yet been handed out but my vote, among the nominees for Best Picture, is for Spotlight. Most people I know didn’t seem to think a movie about a group of journalists from the Boston Globe who expose the massive cover up of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church sounded like a fun night at the movies. Now available on DVD, I’m hoping more folks will take the time to watch this must-see movie.
The film centers around four investigative journalists who produce the “Spotlight” section of the Boston Globe. Michael Keaton plays Robby Robinson, the editor of the “Spotlight” team. Mark Ruffalo as Mike Rezendes, Rachel McAdams as Sacha Pfeiffer and Brian D’Arcy James as Matt Carroll round out his team, with John Slattery as Boston Globe publisher Ben Bradlee, Jr. When new editor, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) comes to the Globe by way of the New York Times and the Miami Herald, everyone anticipates a shakeup.
When Baron assigns the Spotlight crew a piece about a priest suspected of pedophilia they have their doubts (they are all lapsed or non-practicing Catholics) and they have their concerns; 53% of the Globes readership was Catholic and the church held (and holds) much power in Boston. But as the investigation unfolds it unearths a much bigger story – not just one priest but dozens and dozens. The magnitude of the investigation is lost on no one.
Watching journalists research and document their story is not typically riveting stuff, but here it’s fascinating. The Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal is tough, tough subject to palate but here we can; the film handles a heinous situation with compassionate humanity. We know how the story ends, but somehow it’s still suspenseful. Ultimately Spotlight pulls off everything it sets out to do yet never failing to be deeply moving and compelling entertainment.
Director Tom McCarthy (Win Win, The Visitor) strikes all the right notes. The script is stunning. The pacing is perfect. The acting is amazing. There are no false steps, no weak links, and all of it feels so very real. Attention to details and subtle nuance give this film great life. It works on all levels. Even the hue of the film somehow feels like newspaper; don’t ask me to explain it, it just does.
In many ways Spotlight resembles All the President’s Men; a few tenacious print media reporters going up against a Goliath. It’s a brand of dogged journalism and integrity that is found in few places these days. Spotlight isn’t a message movie. It’s never preachy, but it effectively shines a spotlight on the societal importance of long format journalism and the search for truth.