2004, R, 116 min. Directed by Michael Moore.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., June 25, 2004
Michael Moore’s new documentary arrives in theatres this week amidst a veritable sandstorm of anticipation tempered by cautious optimism (from the left), scorn tempered by mounting dread (from the right), and controversy tempered by absolutely nothing (from the media and those of us who have already seen the finished film). So great are the charges raised against the Bush administration in the film, and so combustible the current state of geopolitics, that Moore’s film could actually prove to be the first in history to help unseat a sitting American president. Fahrenheit 9/11, which won the Palm d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival after receiving a 20-plus minute standing ovation, is nothing if not a cinematic time bomb lobbed into the smirking face of the presidency – completely partisan in its attacks, it forgoes much of the snarky humor of Moore’s previous films and all but dispenses with the rotund director’s usual onscreen antics in favor of letting the facts speak for themselves. Very few of the issues raised here – that the Bush family and the family of Osama bin Laden have had close business ties going back decades, or that the president sat idly by and read My Pet Goat with a class of Florida elementary school students for a full seven minutes after being informed the nation was under attack on September 11, or that Bush spent 42% of the first eight months of his presidency on vacation – are new, or of earth-shattering proportions. What is new, and why viewing Moore’s film will be such a powerful, wrenching experience for so many people, is the situation of sitting in a darkened theatre and watching as a steady tapestry of craven presidentiality unfurls for two hours. To cut to the chase, Fahrenheit 9/11 doesn’t just make George W. Bush look bad, it makes him look willfully and knowingly complacent in the face of a grave and growing danger to the United States of America, both before and after 9/11. Moore has reined in his pomp and circumstantial evidence and let loose with a fusillade of unassailable facts – as reported in last Sunday’s New York Times, Moore, taking no chances, hired a veritable army of fact-checkers and has let it be known that he will unleash a similar army of legal pit bulls on anyone he feels makes libelous statements about the film and its conclusions. (Which should make for a very entertaining week of The O’Reilly Factor, if nothing else.) Those conclusions can be summed up thusly: that the Bush administration intentionally manipulated the facts in the case for going to war against Iraq in the panicky, adrenalized haze of 9/11; rushed through Congress the constitutionally questionable USA PATRIOT Act; and with their close ties to the oil industry, have benefited financially from the entire unsavory ordeal. Moore stops short of calling the president’s actions treasonous – that powderkeg adjective is never spoken – but the images of mangled American soldiers, perpetually grieving parents, and even some former Republicans (including an injured U.S. soldier who can’t wait to get home to help the Democrats) who have been in close proximity to the war and suddenly changed political course is enough to call into question the Bush administration’s actions with a sense of urgency lacking elsewhere. It’s not a particularly well-crafted documentary; like the director himself, it rambles on and occasionally feels muddled. But Moore’s patriotism seems unquestionable and, in the film’s latter third, as the focus shifts from angry American soil to bloody Iraqi sand and settles in with the grunts and jarheads who are doing most of the fighting and killing and dying for the rest of us, the film packs a blunt emotional punch that’s almost certain to hit home with voters come November. Like the war itself, Fahrenheit 9/11 is a bloody, messy event fraught with bewilderment and a righteous, steadily mounting fury that lays waste to partisan politics amidst the shocking and awful shrieks of dead or dying Americans.