FAHRENHEIT 9/11 (2004)
Starring Michael Moore, George W. Bush, Cpl. Abdul Henderson, Lila Lipscomb, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, John Ashcroft, Colin Powell, Osama Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, Al Gore, Paul Wolfowitz and George H.W. Bush.
Written by Michael Moore.
Directed by Michael Moore.
Distributed by Lions Gate Pictures. 116 minutes. Rated R.
All over the world, critics are going out of their way to review Fahrenheit 9/11 without really talking about its politics. After all, that is our job. We are entertainment reporters, we are supposed to look at writing, camera work, pacing, dolly work… We aren’t on the international news or op-ed beat.
The problem is this film can’t be reviewed without discussing the politics, because the film is all about politics. So I’ll come clean. I agree with Moore. I think that Bush, Cheney and their cronies have shamelessly, immorally (and quite probably illegally) exploited the worst tragedy in our country’s history for their political and personal profit. I also believe they have eroded our bill of rights and gone about destroying our economy, our ecology and our diplomatic standing with the rest of the world. I believe they misled the country and the world about weapons of mass destruction and the connection between Saddam Hussein and the Taliban.
However, the fact that I agree with many of his points would not make me say that this is a good film. I recently agreed a lot of the politics of The Day After Tomorrow, too. That didn’t change the fact that the movie was pretty stupid.
Fahrenheit 9/11 is a very good film though. A passionate, angry, thought-provoking and often surprisingly funny film. Moore has been quite vocal in interviews that it is not a documentary. It is more of his own personal Op-Ed piece. This is true, there is no sense of balance here, no attempt to be neutral on the subject. This is almost two hours of Moore raging at the political machine, trying to expose the faults of the men who are currently residing in the halls of power.
Moore does tone down the stunts that he has used in previous films like Roger & Me and Bowling for Columbine. He seems to realize that his own celebrity… for better or worse… may get in the way of his points. So he mostly stays off camera, instead letting the footage do the talking for him.
Luckily, Moore doesn’t have to work hard, Dubya and his staff are more than happy to oblige by looking foolish for the camera. (A quick tip… don’t assume the camera isn’t taping just because you haven’t started talking yet.) Dick Cheney looks like an angry CEO who doesn’t want to answer for anything. Donald Rumsfeld looks like a shady lawyer. John Ashcroft looks like a bad Catskills performer when he belts out a song he wrote about eagles flying.
Bush alternately looks like a jovial numbskull and a heartless businessman. (Oh, all right, he mostly looks like the numbskull.) Moore has all too much film to choose from of the man mangling the English language or looking like a scared deer in the headlights. Opponents of the film will insist that with proper editing and a lack of context anyone could be made to look foolish, and it is a valid point. It may be a bit of a cheap stunt to play the Go-Go’s “Vacation” in the background while showing shots of Bush golfing, playing with the first dog and generally loafing when he is supposed to be ruling the country, but it is an entertaining cheap stunt. Moore is a savvy showman, he knows that sometimes you have to find the humor in a situation to keep the audience entertained. However, no amount of editing will change the sentiments and the statements made by W and his cronies.
Moore shows many things we already know; Bush’s career as a failed businessman, the highly questionable 2000 Presidential Elections, the Cheney-Halliburton connections, the controversy about George W.’s military records.
However, Moore also gets some spectacular footage you will find nowhere else. Film footage of the Iraqi War is spectacularly horrific, as it should be. It shows a hell for weary overwhelmed American soldiers, and I truly hope they all get home safely. As a counterpoint, he also shows footage of a convention of huge American Corporations who are being sold on the massive business opportunities of rebuilding the remains of Iraq.
The moments that stay with you are not necessarily the flashiest, though. After a subtly moving recreation of the attacks on the World Trade Center (all the frenzied noise of the tragedy with a blackened screen… followed by video footage of dazed and devastated New York survivors), there is a videotape of Bush’s appearance at a Florida elementary school photo-op on the morning of September 11, 2001. Bush watches students reading the book My Pet Goat while the World Trade Center buildings were being attacked. The look of blank confusion and complete bewilderment on the his face as he sits for almost seven minutes after the second building was hit is bloodcurdling. You watch as he squirms in his seat, fingers the pages of the book and obviously has absolutely no idea what the hell he is supposed to do. So he does nothing. This hardly sounds like the strong, steady, driven leadership that the re-election campaign has been trumpeting.
The other most vital passage in the film shows the cost of the Iraqi War to the people of the States in personal terms. When we first meet Lila Lipscomb, she is working in the Unemployment Office of Flint, Michigan. Lila is a quiet, but passionate supporter of the war. She suggests the military as a very good career option for the unemployed in Flint (she estimates 50% of the town is either unemployed or underemployed.) Her own son, Sgt. Michael Pederson, was proud to have joined up and was stationed near Karbala. Lila explains that she has always hated war protestors, because she always felt they were an affront to her son and her daughter (who had fought in the first Iraqi War.) Later in the film we watch as she tearfully reads a letter her son wrote her a week before he was killed in the war. In it, he says that no one knows why they are there, and when he finally gets home he plans to actively protest the war. So Lila switches sides and suddenly feels more comfort from the protesters.
Manipulative? Perhaps. Undoubtedly every parent who ever lost a child to combat has had similar feelings. However, you can’t watch this once-proud woman who has been reduced to a devastated wreck without being uncomfortably reminded of the true cost of the war. You can’t watch a bunch of American soldiers who all look like they are still in high school comparing warfare to video games and explaining that they like to drive their armored vehicles while listening to Ozzfest CDs without wondering what are these children doing there? Nor can you watch scenes of furious civilian Iraqis whose families and homes have been destroyed for no reason other than they happen to live in a country that Bush/Cheney decided to target and not wonder if this type of thing might just be part of the reason so many of them hate us so much.
The Republicans have been saying that the film is staggeringly partisan. That is true. It is also Moore’s point, of course. They have been suggesting the film is misleading. However, so far, I’ve heard very few in power try to disprove most of Moore’s points.
I’m actually rather shocked that the Bush camp hasn’t put together some kind of rebuttal film. It’s not like Moore hasn’t been talking about doing this film for well over a year. It would seem that Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter or anyone from the Fox News Channel would have had plenty of time to get to it. Oh, there apparently is an upcoming documentary in the works called Michael Moore Hates America, but I hardly think that counts. That is obviously not trying to make an pro-Bush argument. It just takes the approach of calling someone names rather than try to have a considered debate. (Come to think of it, that does sound a lot like the modus operandi of the Bush/Cheney administration.) However, if someone was willing to make a serious film explaining Bush’s motivations and plans, I’d see it. If it was even close to being as well-made a film as this one is, I’d give it a positive review… even if I disagreed with what it had to say. Hell, if they made a good enough argument, I may even be moved to reexamine some of my beliefs.
Will Fahrenheit 9/11 directly influence the 2004 Presidential Election? Probably not too much. A great percentage of the people who will go to the film will already be convinced that Bush is dangerous. Most people who believe in Bush simply won’t see it. Perhaps it will sway some of the undecided. The real important thing the film will achieve is that it will stimulate debate, spark political passion and hopefully drive more people to vote, no matter what their beliefs. Don’t take Moore at his word. Look into the issues yourself and make a truly informed decision with your vote. This kind of potential to open eyes to what is happening in the world is what will make Fahrenheit 9/11 a vitally important film. That is the true American way. (6/04)
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2004 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: June 27, 2004.