Copyright 1998 Gannett Company, Inc.
"The Big One" is a Huge Look at the Economy According to Michael Moore April 6, 1998
Marshall Fine, Gannett Suburban Newspapers

Michael Moore burst onto the scene in 1989 with the hilarious "Roger & Me," and has subsequently established himself as America's premiere consciousness-raising prankster.

He continues his streak with "The Big One," another hysterical film that threatens to give people the expectation that all documentaries should be this entertaining.

Filmed over a three-month period in 1996, "The Big One" follows Moore as he tours the country promoting his book, "Downsize This!" (Random House). With a film crew tagging behind, Moore uses the tour as the opportunity to explore his favorite theme: the disparity between what we are told about our economy and how things really are.

For Moore, that means digging beneath the surface of the so-called economic recovery of the Clinton era. Even as the government is trumpeting prosperity, Moore finds corporate downsizing in virtually every town he visits. He makes a point of visiting at least one employer that has laid off a large number of workers in each town he goes to.

Most of them, of course, have no interest in talking to Moore. Stopping at one Wisconsin company that has moved operations to Mexico, Moore is rebuffed in his efforts to meet the CEO and present him with an award as Downsizer of the Month and a giant check for 80 cents, which is the equivalent of the hourly wage in Mexico. That's because, of all the companies Moore visited, Nike's CEO and founder, Phil Knight, is the only one with the guts to meet with Moore. Moore is cheerfully merciless with the wall-eyed executive, chiding him for making his shoes overseas and begging him to open a shoe factory in Moore's hometown of Flint, Mich.

At one point, the portly Moore even offers to engage Knight in a footrace. If Moore loses, he'll donate money to the charity of Knight's choice. If Knight loses, Moore says, he must agree to build a factory in Flint. Knight, in a no-win situation, demurs. Think of "The Big One" as the movie Nike doesn't want you to see; they even tried to pay Moore to remove some of the Knight scene from the film, an offer Moore refused.

Nike is not alone among the corporate big shots that suffer the slings and arrows of Moore's outrageous attention. Among other things, Moore meets surreptitiously with union organizers from a Borders bookstore where he is doing a book signing; visits a picket line at a candy bar factory where the workers have been laid off for being too productive; and makes hilarious fun of the various media escorts assigned to shepherd him around from interview to interview in various cities.

Yet beneath the wild humor is starker stuff. Moore's point is that, despite all the profits on Wall Street and the zooming economy, prosperity for the rich still comes at the expense of those people who have been cut from the job rolls to maximize profits. That's the story, Moore says, that isn't being told by a media eager to hype skyrocketing profits.

"The Big One" is, if anything, funnier and more pointed than "Roger & Me." Since making that film almost 10 years ago, Moore has honed his vision and his skills, developing a keen appreciation for the absurdities and inequities of everyday life and using this bully pulpit to point them out.

Four Stars (Excellent)

A hilarious and pointed documentary about the disparities between haves and have-nots during the current economic recovery, told with comic gusto by the energetically subversive filmmaker Michael Moore, as he moves through a cross-country book publicity tour.


A collection of Marshall Fine's film reviews is available in Westchester Today, Gannett Suburban Newspapers