Posted by Aaron West, 6/26/04
Directed by Michael Moore
Starring Michael Moore, George W. Bush
Running Time: 112 minutes
Michael Moore has never been a stranger to controversy, and he has always been politically motivated, but who would have suspected he would mix the two together in order to push his agenda? Well, nobody who saw his Oscar speech would be surprised by the content of his most recent message. In Bowling for Columbine he flirted with direct political attacks, but focused more on questioning misguided American ideals. In Fahrenheit 9/11, Mr. Moore takes off the safety, so to speak, and holds nothing back. His intent is to make history. No other filmmaker can claim to have made a difference in a political election. Moore hopes (or maybe prays), that his political assault on the president will swing some voters to the left, and possibly prevent a repeat of the last four years.
Due to Fahrenheit's polarizing, political nature, a review is almost futile. Most people could reasonably predict their reaction without seeing the film, and I can't say that I'm any different. The far left and far right are going to take opposite extremes on this film, and will subsequently argue over it for the next few months. The question on most people's minds, however, is what sort of power a filmmaker has over the political climate of the country? Can he sway the opinions of moderates with his persuasive rhetoric, or will people write him off as a fanatical radical, too far away from the mainstream to be taken seriously?
You can be certain of one thing, Fahrenheit 9/11 is a full scale attack. It is the documentarian's version of a Shock and Awe campaign, that cuts down its opponent with state-of-the-art satire and cinematically guided smart bombs. All of Moore's animosity towards his opponent is apparent in every frame. It is his most personal work, even compared to Roger & Me, which lamented the loss of his own hometown, because his latest film is the grand sum of all the ideals he has collected over the years, especially the past few. Fahrenheit 9/11 is Michael Moore's personal statement about his political feelings towards president George Bush. To put it simply, this is Moore's Oscar Speech visualized. "Shame on you, Mr. Bush, shame on you" is what Moore said over a year ago to a crowd who responded equally with adoration and animosity. Today he says the same thing in just under two hours.
As everyone learns in English 101, when arguing a point, you shouldn't bring up counterpoints or opposing opinions, but only argue what supports your thesis. Don't expect a "fair and balanced" portrayal of events in Fahrenheit 9/11 with opinions from both sides. All of the talking head interviews are of far-left politicians, such as John Conyers. Even the soldiers in Iraq all share the same anti-war, anti-Bush sentiment. Should we fault or criticize Moore for this? Maybe, but as English students learn, when you want to persuade someone of something, you must continually lambast them with facts and viewpoints that support your cause.
Fahrenheit begins at Gore Campaign Headquarters in 2000, celebrating because they believed that they had won the presidential election.
This begins Moore's argument that Bush stole the election, which you may also remember from his Oscar speech. "We live in the time where we have fictitious election results that elects a fictitious president." Moore disputes the election counting process and ultimately blames Bush's political and family connections for securing the election away from Gore.
From there Moore delves into familiar territory, characterizing Bush as a lazy, idiotic buffoon, and he does this by showing Bush's penchant for vacationing during his first eight months in the Oval Office. Most of the humor in these scenes comes from Bush himself, whose "good ol' boy" roots are on display, and his dumb comments take the cake. In one press interview he is questioned on why he isn't working. Bush responds ambiguously that they are working on "stuff". When questioned on what kind of stuff, Bush responds with a vague, "well, you'll see." This portion definitely reminds America that George wasn't elected for his keen intellect. While this sets the stage for the upcoming offensive, it shares nothing that we haven't heard before.
The most eye-opening, and likely the most controversial piece has to do with the Bush family's connection to the Saudi Arabian oil tycoons. The controversy begins with the accusation that in the days following 9/11, when all airline flights across the country were grounded, hundreds of Saudi nationals were flown back to their country, including several members of the Bin Laden family. From there Moore investigates, partly with speculation, how Saudi tycoons have integrated and positioned themselves as close to the Bush family, and have in fact financed GBW's rise to power. Moore stops just short of accusing the Bushes and the Saudis of colluding and conspiring together on the 9/11 tragedy, but he insinuates that there was plenty going on behind the scenes. He also points out the significant interest Saudi holds in this country, stating that they are invested in 6% of the entire country.
Of course Moore's favorite topic, and the reason he made this film, is the Iraq war. "We live in a time where we have a man sending us to war for fictitious reasons." Plenty is said about the cover story concerning the war with Iraq, and how immediately after 9/11, Bush officials were eager to find a connection with Saddam, and tried to dismiss Afghanistan, the Taliban, and to a lesser extent Osama Bin Laden. Unlike the rest of the documentary, Moore tries to appeal to the audiences emotions regarding the war. He begins by showing Iraqi citizens, children, playing at peace before the war. Then he spends a great deal of time focusing on the death and destruction in Iraq. This includes plenty of shocking, bloody images, plus interviews with soldiers on the conditions, and even some translated statements from Iraqis. Moore pulls on the heartstrings most when he interviews Lila Lipscomb, a Flint resident who lost her son in the war. Her tearful speech about losing her son is moving, but Moore doesn't know when to stop. She reads the last letter from her son, also moving, but not as much so. A later scene has her in Washington, approaching the White House, finally with a target for her anger. Who would that target be? Take a guess.
To no surprise, Fahrenheit 9/11 is hilariously funny at times. Moore's sardonic approach to the Bush administration is quite effective, as he lampoons policy by intermixing clips of Dragnet, or by playing the Greatest American Hero theme song when Bush visits an aircraft carrier. Even though Moore has a wicked sense of humor, his jokes aren't the best laughs. George Bush provides most of the comedy himself, whether its in the form of goofy looking facial exercises before going on national television, or simply saying something stupid, as we all know Bush can do. Michael Moore's sarcastic documentary style, combined with Bushes poor articulation make this the prime subject for a rousing comedy.
Is Moore right? That all depends on who you ask, who you read, or who you want to believe. Expect plenty of arguments, plenty of rebuttals and a lot of back-and-forth bickering between the camps on the right and the left in the coming months. Just like Bowling for Columbine, there will surely be line-by-line refutations, which Moore will answer to on his website. Since Fahrenheit has a shot at actually being relevant, expect those who stand to lose to throw everything at him that they can, and likewise expect everyone who wants to gain from Moore's rhetoric to back him up completely. It will be a mess and will anger a lot of people, but, just like Moore's films, it will entertain us throughout the entire ride until election day.
It was Michael Moore's mission to discredit and lampoon the current leader and he accomplishes his means due to his personal convictions and his deft hand behind the camera. Moore attacks Bush with recognizable bias, and with an obvious agenda. While that does taint the movie to a certain degree, it doesn't make it unwatchable to those who may not be firm in their own political leanings. If we can be sure of one thing, the film will inspire thought and a range of emotions from any American who spends their eight dollars.
My score: 8/10