Fahrenheit 9/11
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Depending on your political persuasion, Fahrenheit 9/11 is either a funny movie or an abomination. Michael Moore uses much the same approach that we've seen before, which means he has little concern with being fair to his targets. In Moore's approach, being fair is irrelevant because his primary motivation is entertainment, to make you laugh or to make you cry. For example, when he rehashes the results of the 2000 election in Florida, he can't help but juxtapose the sight of disenfranchised African-American voters pleading before the Senate with a few choice seconds of George W. Bush snickering. The implied insensitivity is outrageous and ... well, funny. This is the type of blatantly unfair approach that Moore honed in movies such as Roger & Me and The Big One, where he turned the insensitivities of his targets against themselves. Much of this approach relies upon 1) your tolerance for Moore's political position, 2) how much you relish seeing his big wig targets squirm, and 3) your ability to derive pleasure from the exaggerations created through the juxtapositions Moore creates by way of editing.

I think Moore is a good comedian. Like any great comedian, he knows his uniform is part of the formula for success. Baseball cap, t-shirt, jeans, and sneakers (not too mention an unshaven face, a spare tire around his midsection, and a certain cowardly but determined nerdiness) — his uniform sets him apart from the well-tailored businessmen/politicians he typically targets. Moore fights for blue-collar workers, for political outsiders, for people with a penchant for controversies and conspiracies. But while Moore might be a good comedian and while his political chutzpah might be admirable, it would be absurd to suggest he's a great filmmaker or that Fahrenheit 9/11 is a great film (with all due respect to the voting members of the Cannes Film Festival, which handed Moore the 2004 Palme d'Or.).

As a political tract, Fahrenheit 9/11 is only intermittently effective. Moore tries to have it both ways by suggesting that Bush is both an incompetent boob as well as one of the guiding members of a vast conspiracy to funnel money into the pockets of the rich elite. But he can't have it both ways. He can't suggest Bush is a sniggering fool AND one of the principal architects of an intricate plan that lines the Bush family's pockets with Saudi Arabian oil money. But such an approach is good for laughs, as long as you don't think about it for too long.

It's a bit of a sham to suggest that Fahrenheit 9/11 was the best example of filmmaking on display at Cannes. Movies that win the Palme d'Or should inspire you regarding the capabilities of cinema. But in terms of filmmaking, there is nothing in Fahrenheit 9/11 that we haven't already seen in Bowling for Columbine or The Big One or Roger & Me — except for Moore's contention that ties exist between the Bush family and Saudi oil. And that's why the film is receiving attention — not for the filmmaking but for its politics.

I'm a liberal democrat, but even I find the simple-minded political pandering on display in Fahrenheit 9/11 to be a bit embarrassing. I would have loved to have seen Moore drive his arguments home with such veracity that even republicans might have wavered. But this is a movie for the converted. To be fair, though, that's part of the fun — to show us Bush blithely making jokes at a fund raiser — "This is an impressive crowd—the haves and the havemores. Some people call you the elite. I call you my base." (The punch line here isn't Bush's brazen, dunder-headed sense of comedy. It's the way the audience grins and laughs. Yes, we're the havemores. Tee hee!). To show us senators dashing away from Moore's outstretched hand. Enlist your sons and daughters in the war on Iraq, he pleads. (Some senators stare in confusion at the enlistment form on Moore's clipboard while others skip away, smirking.) To show us Bush playing golf yet again. (According to a Washington Post article, Bush was on vacation as much as 42% of his first 8 months as president.) To show us the disillusionment on the faces of American soldiers who have been severely injured in Iraq and now say they're switching their policital party to democrat. To show us the pain on a mother's face — who has recently lost her son to the war in Iraq — as she stands outside the White House.

In the latter case, Moore tries to get away with a clichéd bit of manipulation. He has the mother read her son's last letter, written just days before his Black Hawk helicopter crashed. Like this last scene, Moore prefers to go for crass manipulation rather than to provide us with the facts that will make his case irrefutable. No, Moore is much less concerned with swaying your point of view than he is with going for an easy laugh or a jerry-rigged bit of sentimental sensationalism, and that's why his brand of disposable social commentary — it's the only shtick he seems to know — is better suited for television, where it's more direct, more immediate. I guess I sort of miss TV Nation, but I can take or leave Fahrenheit 9/11.

[rating: 2.5 of 4 stars]

Distributor Web site: Lions Gate Films
Movie Web site: Fahrenheit 9/11



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