Fahrenheit 9/11 Review
By Shawn McKenzie 06/25/2004
I’d like to get a few things clear before I launch into my review of Michael Moore’s new documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11. First, I am neither a Democrat nor a Republican. I am a Libertarian, so I have no specific bias for or against President Bush. On the flip side, I had been a Moore supporter until this past year. My falling out with him started at the 2003 Academy Awards. I didn’t have a problem with what he said when he won his award for Best Documentary Feature for Bowling for Columbine…just in the way he said it. He was very disrespectful to the ceremony in giving the same exact speech done in the same way he had given the day before at the Independent Spirit Awards. Other winners at the Oscars that year also expressed their opposition to the war, but did so in a much classier, non-rehearsed way. I would never restrict his right to say what he said, but I also don’t have to like or revere it. My respect continued to dwindle when I found out that he had fabricated some things in Columbine to make his point. That made me suspicious of anything he might bring out. I have followed his career from the beginning though, and ever since his first movie, Roger & Me, he has at least been entertaining, whether you agreed with him or not. Since I am an entertainment critic and not a political commentator, I am going to try to review only the entertainment value of the film.
First, I’ll give you the “plot” of the film in the best way I can for a film that doesn’t actually have a plot. Before the opening credits, Moore rehashes the old subject of the 2000 Presidential election where he makes it look like everyone is confused how Bush became President over Al Gore. He then makes Bush look like the bumbling version of the Texan that Will Ferrell portrayed on “Saturday Night Live,” goofing up right and left with one scandal after the next, and showing him mostly vacationing (complete with Moore playing the Go-Gos’ “Vacation” in the background.) Then he plays the footage of the airplanes crashing into the Twin Towers on 9/11/01, but only the audio of it (the screen goes completely black.) The Bush bashing continues with footage of Bush trying to keep diplomacy in a Kindergarten class photo-op while trying to figure out what to do. After that, he claims that the government had allowed two dozen members of Osama bin Laden’s family to leave the country without questioning them (complete with Moore playing the Animals’ “We Gotta Get Outta This Place.”) He wonders why by comparing the situation to a “Dragnet” episode. I found out though that a recent 9/11 panel report stated that the chartered flights out of the country took place starting Sept. 14, once airspace had reopened, and that it confirmed the FBI’s conclusion that no one who was allowed to leave had any involvement in the attacks. After that, Moore shows some papers describing Bush’s involvement with the Texas Air National Guard and a man he knew in the Guard, James R. Bath, who went on to become the Texas money manager for the bin Ladens (we never get to hear from Bath.) We get to see Bush and his dad chumming it up with Osama and his family (with R.E.M.’s “Shiny Happy People” playing in the background), but it never mentions that Osama’s relatives have since renounced him. More ironic combinations of music and news footage continue with Moore showing the famous parachute jump onto the aircraft carrier to announce the end of major combat while Joey Scarbury’s “Believe it or Not (The Theme from ‘The Greatest American Hero’)” plays in the background. We then get into familiar Moore territory where he finally does what he’s best at…doing funny, yet creepy, confrontations. He learned that most Senators don’t read most bills that they sign, so he decides to drive around Washington D.C. in an ice cream truck and read the Patriot Act to them. He also learned that only one Senator in the Legislature has a son fighting in the Armed Forces, so he confronts several Senators and tries to get them to sign up their sons and daughters. The last 30-45 minutes of the movie are the sad and gross parts. He shows the effects of the war, with all of the dead bodies and the beheadings (from a distance), all of which most likely gained the movie its R-rating. They even have an R-rated song playing in the background during these disturbing images…The Bloodhound Gang’s “Fire Water Burn” (with a chorus that says, “The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire/We don’t need no water let the motherf****r burn/Burn motherf****r burn.”) Finally, he goes back to his hometown of Flint, Michigan again and finds Lila Lipscomb, the mother of a soldier who died in Iraq. She had gone from patriotic flag waver to breaking down in tears in front of the White House because of the loss of her son. The movie ends with Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in a Free World” playing over the closing credits.
I have almost always disagreed with Moore’s politics, but I’ve always found him entertaining. I have seen Roger & Me several times, watched every episode of his TV shows “TV Nation” and “The Awful Truth,” and I even put Columbine on my list of the top ten best movies of 2002. That’s why I’m a little disappointed in this one from an entertainment standpoint. Usually, his most effective tool to get his point across has been to use humor with occasional flashes of serious stuff. In this movie, he seems to be doing the opposite. It would have been more interesting (and satirically biting) to see him do more things like the signing up relatives part and the ice cream truck part. It almost felt like he ran out of ideas, but he still wanted to make a powerful anti-Bush statement, so he went the easy route and showed the horrors of war instead.
As for his concern that it got an R-rating, I don’t know why he cares. He has stated that he hopes that this will be the first movie to unseat a President. In order to do that, you need to vote, and in order to vote, you have to be 18 years old. Since R-rated movies are for people 17 years old and above, everyone who could vote (or could potentially vote) would be allowed to see the movie. I don’t know why he would want underage kids to sneak into the movie, since they won’t be able to vote later. Maybe he thinks that they will grow up to be future Bush bashers, but that doesn’t matter, since it will be Bush’s second (and last) term, and he will be out of office around the time they reach voting age.
One other thing about the movie bothered me. I realize that he had an agenda, and that’s fine, but he didn’t even attempt to get the other side’s viewpoint, even if for no other reason than to shoot it down later. Maybe it is because I am Libertarian, but I find that when you get both sides’ opinions, and then give your point, you are more effective. I have seen this work for those John Stossel ABC specials and for magicians Pen and Teller on their Showtime show “Penn & Teller: Bulls**t.” The most that Moore does is make Bush and other Republicans look goofy and vain (like he has never had makeup applied or his hair groomed before a shoot? Oh wait, this is Michael Moore we’re talking about, so maybe not…) Espousing only your viewpoints and not showing the other side does nothing but preach to the choir and tick off the other side. People “on the fence” might fall on your side, but your tactics to sell the film and get your point across will distract them.
I am giving Fahrenheit 9/11 an average rating, because it is an average film, for Moore at least. Virtually everything he has done in the past has been better. It seems like he spent more time garnering controversy for the film rather than making the content of the film itself more effective. His next proposed film is called Sicko, and it will focus on the American healthcare system. Even though I will probably disagree with it as well, I could see it becoming as good as Columbine if done right (and effective if he doesn’t fabricate the facts for his own agenda.) In the meantime, as I was doing research for this film, I learned about another one that will be coming to a theater near you soon hopefully. It is called Michael Moore Hates America, and it is told from the viewpoint of filmmaker Michael Wilson as he tries to get an interview with Moore, just as Moore tried to get an interview with General Motors CEO Roger Smith in Roger & Me. Also like Roger, it shows the hardship that various Americans are going through, but instead of giving a bleak picture of the future, he shows hope that through hard work and determination, people can make things better for themselves. It would be nice to be entertained by and agree with a film occasionally.
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