Though it might seem impossible to do, to best appreciate Michael Moore's new film, "Fahrenheit 9/11" (IMDb listing) one must look at it through eyes untainted by politics for a brief moment. The film is 100 percent politically motivated, but it's also something American cinemas haven't seen in decades: a revolutionary film, and a flat-out call to arms. Regardless of personal political leanings, "Fahrenheit 9/11" is an amazing accomplishment of individual expression and anti-government aggression. It will be one of the most detested films of the year, but also one of the best, no doubt about it.
Starting with the scandalous Florida election results in 2000, "Fahrenheit" is a film designed to question President George W. Bush's every move in a way most audiences are not used to. Moore, an outspoken loather of the President, has shaped his film like a cinematic bullet, with character assassination on the top of his to-do list. The overtly entertaining ways that Moore usually mounts his documentaries have been put on hold this time around. Instead, "Fahrenheit" shows a series of solemn images and sound bites, arranged as a critical history of the President's actions since he took office, including the abuse of power and use of fear tactics that have been employed for his monetary and narcissistic gains. Moore is after blood this time around, and his filmmaking has been sharpened to an alarming degree. His last film, the Oscar-winning "Bowling for Columbine," was an engrossing diatribe on American society's ills, filled with comedy, horror, and Moore's traditional satirical bend. "Fahrenheit" has a much shorter list of goals, and Moore seems hell-bent on achieving every last one.
Iraq is the largest weight on Moore's mind this time around, itemizing the Bush administration's actions as the country sped toward war over the past three years. Moore is defiant in his questioning of every move the administration has made since 2000, filling the screen with "proof" of contradictions and outright lies, which should be enough to make any conservative's head explode. Moore is not kidding around here: there's fascinating, recognizable footage of the Iraqi war's gruesome early days (which mirrors the footage found in the recent Al Jazeera documentary, "Control Room"), then a more personal slant starts to seep into the proceedings. Moore's cameras follow a U.S. convoy through Iraq during the daily ritual of rousing the frightened locals, looking for the enemy. Intercut with these scenes are interviews with the soldiers, as they question why they were sent to such a hellish environment under false pretenses. We meet a mother of a slain soldier, who is so beside herself with grief, she makes a pilgrimage to the White House to air her pain. And in a short, classic Moore moment, the filmmaker rides in an ice cream truck around Washington, using the P.A. system to read the labyrinthine "Patriot Act" to confused citizens in the street.
The film follows the intricate financial connections between Bush and the Bin Laden family, the "war on terror" found in America's understaffed borders, the desperation the military is facing trying to get citizens to join the ranks, and, ultimately, how the Bush administration has manipulated and lied to American citizens to further its own objectives. Moore is stacking the deck in his favor, there's no dispute from me about that. Moore wants Bush out of office this November and he's using "Fahrenheit 9/11" to rally the anti-Bush troops. Maybe the criticism of overt manipulation in "Columbine" rattled Moore, because "Fahrenheit" is a stronger argument, heavy on examples, footage, and documents. It's a solid film, heading off on tangents, but skillfully retaining its point over and over again.
"Fahrenheit 9/11" is brazenly calculating, freely contradictory, and entirely arrogant in its assumptions and declarations (aren't all documentaries?). But that's Moore, and it always will be. There are few like him. There is no sickening "spin," useless "balance," or even an attempt to involve Bush in the hostile allegations within this film. "Fahrenheit 9/11" is Moore's personal declaration of governmental fraud, his political agenda, and his solitary attempt to rile the nation up to question its leader's actions. When was the last time you saw a motion picture do that? In the end, what better way to celebrate America than to know that a film like this can see a safe release and spark debate and anger the old fashioned way: through politics and free thought. The summer just became a little hotter.
Filmfodder Grade: A