Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004) / Documentary
MPAA Rated: R for graphic scenes of war
Running Time: 112 min.
Director: Michael Moore
Screenplay: Michael Moore
Review published June 29, 2004
Try as I might to artfully sidestep taking sides in the debate over whether or not the US invasion (aka liberation) of Iraq is right or wrong proves to be an arduous task, as I generally try to weigh each film on its own merits as far as entertainment value, interest, and watchability. Taken on those terms, documentarian and provocateur, Michael Moore (Bowling for Columbine, Roger & Me), has crafted quite an engaging piece of work once again, the kind of movie you can't take your eyes off of, regardless of whether or not you buy every partisan point or dismiss it as utter hogwash. While it isn't as brilliant as his previous piece, Bowling for Columbine, Moore has definitely still delivered the goods here, a sometimes breathtaking look at a world-altering situation as played out through the media, press conferences, and small scale personal interviews. It might be called liberal mud-slinging, but this mud is definitely sticky, and as a rallying cry for all Liberals and fence-sitters to get fired up to vote George W. out of office, Moore has pulled just enough of the right strings to effect a possible change in public opinion, at least for the time being.
Moore's film starts off with lamenting the fact that, like a bad dream, the 2000 election of George W. Bush over Al Gore should not have happened. It's a convoluted scenario to describe here without reliving it, but the gist of Moore's complaint is that the political machine in place in the deciding state of Florida, as well as the Supreme Court, was a stacked deck just waiting to play the right cards to their man on the Right. This is the first of many dominoes Moore tries to topple over in his unrelenting repudiation of this man who many feel is in over his head as President, letting his handlers and family business interests preside over his decision making. Bush, Moore alleges, isn't seeking what's best for the country so much as what's best for the corporations that own him, as well as the foreign investors, most notably Saudi Arabia (the country of Osama Bin Laden and most of the airplane hijackers involved in 9/11), and that our president used the 9/11 tragedy to induce enough fear, hate and resentment for an already planned invasion of Iraq. After this, Moore picks apart the Iraq war, calling it a needless excursion that results in the deaths of countless innocent Iraqis, our underprivileged men and women serving, as well as fostering more hatred among countries who previously had no real reason to hate us.
The only real problem with Fahrenheit 9/11 is that it ultimately doesn't quite live up to its incendiary title. Moore provides a lot of smoke, so much so that many will be convinced that there is a fire, but the string by which he ties everything together is really more as a result of educated guesses and wishful thinking than hard proof that G.W. is a doofus puppet president manipulated at the hands of evil corporations. The end result is that those who already hate Bush will feel more justified in their feelings and those who love him will still feel like there is little proof in Moore's accusations to think this isn't the mad ramblings of a raving Liberal. However, where Moore will prove successful in his message comes from not only solidifying the Liberal base, but from those viewers undecided in their feelings of the man in the White House. Even if the evidence doesn't completely find Bush guilty of all that Moore charges, the seeds of doubt will take root among many, fueling skepticism and possible disdain for the Iraq war and the legitimacy of Bush's endeavors.
The downside to Fahrenheit 9/11 is the decidedly topical nature of the film. The book on George W. Bush is far from closed, as the film has come out while he still holds office, so the facts aren't really all in. Moore's mission is crystal clear in releasing this at the time he did: he wants to see Bush lose the 2004 election, and he's going to put utilize everything in his arsenal of information to ensure success. While it awaits to be seen just how much of an impact Moore will have, one thing is evident: this is filmmaking at its most urgent and immediate, a true must-see movie that will have the nation talking about it for months to come. Moore knows that Bush got into office by the slimmest of margins and that it might only take a little nudge to see him back out again, and with a volatile concoction like Fahrenheit 9/11, Moore, and the rest of the world that despise Bush, just might get their wish. While Moore may not prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Bush is the horrible man he tries to paint him to be, the fact that he manages to dent the armor so proficiently makes this a success on many fronts.
©1999 Vince Leo