Fahrenheit 9/11 Review
Even before its recent US theatrical release, Fahrenheit 9/11, Michael Moore's eagerly-anticipated indictment of the war on Iraq, the events of September 11th and George Bush's 'fictitious presidency', was generating loads of controversy (a lot of it self-generated by Moore himself). Disney, the parent company of Miramax, blocked its domestic distribution, forcing the Weinstein brothers to buy back the film rights and look to a third party for help (they were eventually able to secure distribution from Lions Gate, IFC and created their own Fellowship Adventure Group). Then Moore announced he had interview footage of American businessman Nicholas Berg (who was later kidnapped and beheaded by members of an Islamic militant group ), that would remain private and he graciously offered to send copies to Berg's family. He later came under attack for his decision not to notify anyone of prisoner abuse in Iraq, despite his field team catching some of it on film months before the scandal broke worldwide, and author Ray Bradbury joined the media frenzy when he demanded an apology and asked that the title of Moore's film be changed, because he felt it was a blatant rip-off of his best-selling novel Fahrenheit 451. And lastly there was the matter of the film's rating. The MPAA gave it an R and Moore and company fought unsuccessfully to have it changed to a PG-13, because he wanted to reach the widest possible audience.
When Fahrenheit 9/11 premiered at the Grand Théâtre Lumière at this year's Cannes Film Festival, it received a 20-minute standing ovation and went on to win the Palme d'Or (the top prize at the festival). It's already set a number of box office records including highest opening weekend ever for a documentary of any type, highest opening ever for a Palme d'Or winner beating the previous record holder Pulp Fiction and its opening weekend numbers have already outgrossed the total domestic box office for Bowling for Columbine - high praise and lots of attention for what amounts to a brilliantly edited, 110-minute exercise in Bush-bashing. Using interviews and archived news footage and with no pretense of impartiality, Michael Moore (Roger and Me, Bowling for Columbine) sets about deconstructing Dubya. He accuses Bush of stealing the 2000 election, ignoring dozens of terrorism warnings before 9/11, using the aftermath of 9/11 for his own political advantage, having close business and personal ties to the Saudi royal family and securing American support for the Iraq war with threats of Iraqi-held weapons of mass destruction, a Saddam Huessin/al-Qaida connection and future terrorist attacks.
A master of emotional-manipulation, Moore uses creative editing and selective video clips to tell his story. Two of the film's most effective scenes deal with the events of September 11th. While the planes were crashing into the World Trade Center, George Bush was in a Florida classroom reading My Pet Goat to a group of school children. After being told about the second plane crash, he sits there momentarily indecisive and then continues to read for seven more minutes (screen capture above). The other segment features a black screen - the only audio heard is the sound of the planes crashing into the Towers. The black screen then changes into a collage of reactions from stunned onlookers and survivors - it makes a huge impact without any narration. The film also contains the controversial footage Moore's crew shot of American military personnel abusing Iraqi prisoners out in the field - they are seen posing for pictures alongside a hooded prisoner fondling his genitals through a blanket. One of the film's most poignant moments is an interview with Lila Lipscomb. The mother of two serviceman, she's initially proud and patriotic when Moore first meets her, but we later learn her son has been killed in Iraq and there is a heart-wrenching scene of her reading the last letter he wrote before he died and her subsequent trip to Washington. But there is also Moore's trademark humour peppered throughout the film. When he learns that only one son of a Congressman or Representative is on active duty in Iraq, he stops pro-war Congressmen on the street and tries to recruit their sons for military service. After being told that no member of Congress read the complete Patriot Act before voting for it, he drives around Washington DC in an ice cream truck reading the act to members of Congress using a bullhorn, and he uses the Go-Go's song Vacation during a segment in which he claims Bush spent 42% of his first 8 months in office off on Holidays.
Moore seems to have learned a lesson or two from the criticism leveled against him for Bowling for Columbine. This time around he offers corroborating evidence to back up his claims (specifically the relationship Bushes Jr. and Sr. had with the Saudi royal family) and he's also cut down on the humour and sarcasm and spends less time on screen. The film absolutely dazzles when Moore literally takes himself out of the picture and lets his images and subjects speak for themselves. You won't soon forget a grieving Lila Lipscomb or the disturbing war images of battle weary soldiers and broken, bloodied bodies of civilian war casualties, and you'll be moved to tears (from laughing) at Attorney General John Ashcroft's rendition of Let the Eagle Soar, a song he composed himself and sings excrutiatingly bad. And nothing illustrates Moore's claims of Bush's incompetency and arrogance more than video clips of George Bush being himself... very little editing was needed there.
A lot of people have mixed feelings where Michael Moore is concerned - while they applauded his messages, they're not fans of the messenger. His likable, tubby David taking on corporate Goliath was refreshing and original when he burst onto the scene with Roger and Me, but his credibility was called into question after the release of Bowling for Columbine and he's been slated for his tabloid techniques. He's matured as a filmmaker since then and created one of the most important and thought-provoking films in recent years. As a documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11 is technically on a par with his excellent Bowling For Columbine, but, because it's basically a regurgitation of things we already know, lacks the 'wow' factor of the other film. Still, it's a funny, compelling, chilling, heart-breaking and hugely entertaining piece of filmmaking that should be seen by everyone. Despite his hope of influencing the outcome of this year's Presidential election, I don't see the film having much of an impact on American voters as a lot of the material it covers can be seen on nightly news programmes and most of the voters have already made up their minds one way or the other about their Commander-in-Chief's performance in office, but its messages deserve to be heard by the rest of the world and love him or hate him, Michael Moore never ceases to get our attention or provoke discussion.