Love Michael Moore or hate him — and it’s difficult to avoid doing both — Michael Moore commands an audience like no documentary filmmaker in the history of the medium. Who else could fill the 2,000 seats of Toronto’s capacious Princess of Wales Theatre for an essay film on the shortcomings of American society, featuring no subject more famous than its maker? The tradeoff is that Moore’s movies are, first and foremost, about him, a subject on which he rarely turns a critical eye.
“Where to Invade Next,” Moore’s first movie since 2009’s “Capitalism: A Love Story,” begins with a crudely Photoshopped sequence in which Moore is ostensibly called upon by the U.S. Armed Forces to pick the next country for us to invade — ideally scoring our first outright military victory since World War II. It’s a crude, and often forgotten, device for what amounts to a fact-finding mission in which Moore scours the globe — or a small section of it, featuring “Caucasians whose names I can mostly pronounce” — for ideas he can use to fix his broken homeland. He’s done this before, notably in “Sicko’s” envious exploration of France’s generous policies on maternity leave and state-subsidized childcare, and in some ways, “Invade’s” gimmick seems like a not-especially-successful way of disguising that Moore is retracing his own tracks. “Invade,” which flits from country to country without landing a solid overall thesis, plays like binge-watching a season of Moore’s “TV Nation,” including a credit for field producers which is rarely seen on the big screen.
Moore’s oversimplifications can be exasperating, but he essentially defuses the criticism in advance by copping to the fact that he’s cherry-picking. He helps his case by staying a step ahead of the biggest objections: When he ogles Norway’s humane and spacious prisons, where murderers handle sharp cooking knives and no sentence lasts longer than 21 years, you can’t help but think “But what about Anders Breivik?” — at which point Moore segues into a discussion of Breivik’s horrific act of homegrown terrorism, even talking to the father of one of his victims. The interview is, however, one of the movie’s real sour notes, as Moore keeps cutting off his subject’s thoughts on forgiveness with “But he killed your son!”
“Where to Invade’s” most cutting point, one Moore brings home in the movie’s final section, is that many of the ideas that have allowed these countries to surpass the U.S. originated in the ostensible land of the free: Portuguese police officers knowledgeably cite the Eighth Amendment in condemning capital punishment, and Finnish schoolteachers cite American’s progressive education movement as an inspiration. As it turns out, we don’t need to look abroad for great ideas. It’s not ideas Moore needs to bring home. It’s the will to implement them, and to stand up to the political forces that work against them.
Reviews of “Where to Invade Next”
Henry Barnes, Guardian
Six years in the making, Where to Invade Next is a romantic film, equally affecting and annoying in its simplicity. It’s the work of an idealist who has let a bit of his anger subside and allowed his bite to loosen with it. The purpose, Moore said in a post-screening Q&A, was to ignore the weeds. So there’s no mention of Italy’s unemployment rate, or Finland’s problem with alcohol, or France’s shabby race relations. It’s an “in an ideal world” movie, which is fine; but it does make America look cartoonishly bad in comparison – a briar patch with not a flower in sight.
Eric Kohn, Indiewire
Unlike his usual stunt routine, Moore never tricks his targets into showing their flaws. His reductive mode of address still registers somewhat thin, but that itself reflects his all-inclusive approach — it’s the closest he has ever come to an apolitical movie. Of course, Moore’s argumentative technique suffers throughout from a fundamentally short-sighted approach: He barely acknowledges the struggles of countless non-U.S. regions coping with censorship, war and other forms of debilitating repression. Still, “Where to Invade Next” isn’t meant to do much beyond suggest a handful of possibilities. Moore never presumes omniscience; if anything, the perspective he assumes is happily clueless but sincere.
Justin Chang, Variety
Geographically as well as philosophically, Moore is all over the map here. There doesn’t seem to be a single pressing issue of the day that he’s unwilling to comment on, and next to the relatively focused approach of films like “Roger & Me,” “Bowling for Columbine,” “Fahrenheit 9/11” and “Sicko,” “Where to Invade Next” has a broader topical scope that gives it the feel of a career summation, a cinematic statement of ideological principles. As such, it may be even more susceptible than its predecessors to the charges of slipshod, simplified filmmaking that have dogged Moore for years: His shaming-by-example strategy doesn’t acknowledge or account for the fact that poverty and injustice persist, even in countries with more generous social services. Needless to say, those seeking a more balanced, politically nuanced perspective — one that offers, say, a more subtle parsing of the death penalty and abortion rights — will not find themselves among Moore’s targeted demographic.
Noel Murray, The Playlist
Several of Moore’s recent films, even in their best moments, have played like one long, shapeless episode of his 1990s TV series “TV Nation” and “The Awful Truth.” If nothing else, the “plunder” motif makes “Where To Invade Next” more organized and purposeful. It doesn’t keep the movie from feeling too long, though. Concluding segments on women’s rights in both Tunisia (the lone non-European country that Moore storms) and Iceland make points as valuable as any other here, but by the time they appear, “Where To Invade Next” has crossed the 90-minute threshold and is on its way to a nearly two-hour running-time; Moore’s gimmick has begun to have diminishing returns. Still, compared to his usual “here are a bunch of loosely connected outrageous news items I found” approach, this film has a welcomed sense of focus.
Deborah Young, Hollywood Reporter
Wherever he travels, he finds some almost unbelievable aspect of society that works so well it’s worth importing. Slovenia, for instance, has a free university system that actively caters to foreign students, to the point of offering courses in English, all free of charge. Germans employed at the Faber-Castell pencil factory work 36 hours a week on a 40-hour salary and are sent to a spa to relax whenever they feel stressed. Yet the factory prospers. Nor do German schools attempt to whitewash the Holocaust, the way America sweeps slavery and the genocide of First Nation people under the carpet. Meant to stupefy, these little-known facts also raise the suspicion that things are being misrepresented in some way. While Moore asks journalistic questions, he clearly has an agenda and the film never allows any contrasting fact to interfere with it. A non-believer could easily find it infuriating on this score.
Allan Hunter, Screen Daily
There are some tough images and harsh words here but just when you think it has become a long lament, Moore manages to turn everything around to end on a note of hope. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the election of Nelson Mandela provide proof that anything is possible and Moore sees the greatest hope for change lies so often in the power of women to make a difference. It isn’t a direct endorsement of Hillary Clinton but it might not do her chances any harm. In the end Where To Invade Next lectures America on its failings and suggests a way forward. It is a more stimulating, thought-provoking and entertaining call to arms than anything we are likely to hear from an aspiring President over the next year.
Mike Ryan, Uproxx
What Moore has basically done with Where to Invade Next is take a dozen ideas he seems to have had floating around his head – none of them being substantial enough to sustain a movie on their own – and smush them all together into one movie… clumsily strung together by this whole “invading” nonsense. Moore tries his darndest to make all the different subjects seem like they relate to each other, but Where to Invade Next really does fly off in so many directions, it’s hard to feel there’s any real narrative here. At almost two hours, by the end, I started to get that feeling I used to get when my parents would sit me down and list off everything I’ve been doing wrong or slacking on. By the end, it’s just, “Okay, I get it! I am awful! We all agree! Can we stop now?”