SICKO written and directed by Michael Moore. A Weinstein Company/Alliance Atlantis release. 113 minutes. Opens Friday (June 29). Rating: NNNN
Anyone who suggests privatizing our health care system should be shown Sicko, Michael Moore's terrifying catalogue of HMO horror stories in the U.S. You've heard appalling statistics about Americans who have no health insurance; Moore's film is about people who do have health insurance.
Staying out of the way for much of the film, Moore lets Americans tell how their HMOs have failed them. But failure is a matter of perspective: if you're an HMO, not paying for people's health care qualifies as "success."
Moore structures Sicko in three acts, all anecdotal. In the first, he pays heart-rending visits to people who thought they were insured only to discover that their HMO wouldn't cover the bone marrow transplant that would save their lives. They can't afford to pay for the procedure themselves.
In the second, Moore as "innocent abroad" visits Canada, France and England, where he asks, "If America's the greatest country on earth, why don't we have better health care?"
The third, both absurd and touching, is the one that has really raised American hackles. Moore takes a group of 9/11 rescue workers to Cuba to get the health care they can't get at home.
The most contentious point of the film for international audiences is Moore's unquestioning admiration of the Canadian, British and French universal health care systems.
He's awfully impressed that a young English doctor who practises under socialized medicine lives in a million-dollar house. Having just spent time in London, I can tell you that in Bayswater, Notting Hill's less fashionable neighbour, $1 million won't buy a fixer-upper, which costs about the same as something really nice in Forest Hill.
Still, if you're not fabulously rich, where would you rather be struck with a horrifying disease - London, Ontario, or Kenosha, Wisconsin?
Sicko has emotional power, no question, though from a Canadian perspective (one probably shared by Europeans), my emotional response is leavened with a certain sense of smug national superiority. However much we mock our own health care system, at least we don't live in the States.