Sicko (12A)

Britain as socialist paradise? Why thank you, Mr Moore
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The Independent Culture

Michael Moore's new film opens with a clip of George Bush being a dullard, followed by some sarcastic narration from Moore himself. No change there, you might say. But from that point onwards, Sicko departs from Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11 in a number of ways. It has almost none of the animated segments or the old-movie montages which are Moore's stock in trade, and the man and his baseball cap don't appear on screen for a full 45 minutes. Even then, he's less pugnacious than usual. He's Moore in sorrow than in anger.

One reason for this mellowing is that Sicko wasn't ignited by a specific event, whether a high school massacre or a war on terror. Its topic is America's private health-care system, which Moore first examined on his television show back in 1999, so it's no wonder that he doesn't have his customary urgency.

Not that Sicko fails to raise the blood pressure. Fifty million Americans have no health insurance – one interviewee had to stump up $12,000 to have a severed finger sewn on. And even the 250 million who are insured come up against armies of claims adjusters who do their damnedest to reduce and reject payouts. You've only to see the shots of the insurers' skyscraping office blocks to know that they're in a scandalously profitable business.

Not once, however, does Moore shamble into one of these office blocks and demand to speak to the CEO. Instead, he devotes the second half of the film to visiting countries with better medical systems than America's. Britain, for one, is held up as a socialist paradise, devoid of waiting lists or bug-infested hospitals.

But as flattering as it is to be presented in such a rosy light, the fact that the NHS is a national treasure won't come as news to many of us. Likewise, Moore's contention that not everyone in Cuba and France is evil won't provoke too many heated debates in cinema foyers.

Sicko is still a lucid, wryly funny polemic, but it doesn't feel as lapel-grabbingly vital as Moore's other work. Considering how central he was in reviving documentaries on the big screen, it's disappointing to report that his new film would be more at home on television.