The Big One (1997)
Directed by Michael Moore
Shot in the documentary style Moore is known for, The Big One is in some ways an extension of his work on "TV Nation," as he often uses his own celebrity to bring about situations that he could have only dreamed about while shooting Roger & Me.
Ostensibly a travelogue of his book tour promoting the book Downsize This!, the film finds Moore insinuating himself into corporate offices along the way, wreaking general havoc as he protests the downsizing of American workers even as the companies laying them off post record profits.
The Big One is layered with self-referential irony, and the director seems aware that he is preaching to the converted. Tiny jabs at left-leaning NPR types are sprinkled amongst the easy Jesse Helms jokes as if to illuminate the fact that liberal apathy can be as insidious as conservative action.
Still, a cameo by Garrison Keillor sent a wave of titillation though the audience at the theater in which saw the film, so I'm not sure everyone really "got it."
Moore's own brand of action never really becomes activism, but it is not just comedy either. He's not above going for an obvious target, but he always seems to have a point, as when he presents a giant check for sixty-five cents to Leaf Corporation (which had just shut down a Payday candy bar plant) for "the last Payday."
The flaws in this film stem more from Moore's comedic instinct than from his politics, as in the sequence in which he tries to "lose" his Random House media escort by having her nearly arrested for "stalking." The set-up is relatively amusing, but the execution is quite mean-spirited, giving the impression that Moore may be a little too calculated in seeking comedy to punch up his film, which truly is no Roger & Me.
Unlike that film, The Big One at times seems lazy and self-contented, expecting the viewer to simply accept Moore's version of the truth. The most interesting scenes in the film occur near the end when Moore lands an interview with Nike CEO Phil Knight.
We are supposed to see Knight as representing the evil of corporate America (his is a company that makes billions while employing children in Indonesia to make its shoes for dollars a day), but in some respects Moore has done a better job of showing us what makes a CEO tick.
I didn't come away hating Phil Knight, even while I couldn't see how the guy had any conscience whatsoever, being faced with the moral issues created by his own corporate management. In fact, Michael Moore himself almost fares worse, as his schtick grows predictable and its anger less and less righteous.
The film tries a bit too hard to demonstrate the evil of downsizing and doesn't always succeed, using downsized workers as an effect rather than as the lifeblood of the film. However, these objections might be too strong for a film that is not really trying to change the world, and The Big One is definitely a lot of fun to watch. If that doesn't sound like a ringing endorsement, corner me and get me talking about The Man in the Iron Mask sometime, this will sound like a freakin' love letter.
Review by Patti Porta