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George W. Bush
Documentary filmmaker Michael Moore takes a hard look at the events surrounding the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the war in Iraq, showing how the current government, particularly George W. Bush, has lied to the American people and betrayed their trust.
When Michael Moore gave his infamous acceptance speech at the 2003 Oscars railing against the burgeoning war in Iraq and the "fictitious president" starting a war for "fictitious reasons", little did we know that he had just kicked off the promotional campaign for his latest documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11.
Moore has become well known for his in-your-face investigative reporting, going directly after the big corporations with his frank look at unemployment and corporate downsizing in Roger and Me and The Big One and gun control in his Oscar winning Bowling for Columbine. Over the last fifteen years, he has redefined the modern documentary filmmaking, while keeping in touch with the common man and with his audience. For Fahrenheit 9/11, he cuts out all of the middlemen and goes right after the Big Kahuna, questioning the way that President Bush and his administration handled the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the war with Iraq.
It starts innocently enough with a comedic preamble done in Moore's typical humorous style about how Bush won the 2000 presidential election under dubious circumstances. Things quickly turn somber as the screen goes black after the opening credits and the sounds of the 9/11 attacks can be heard followed by reactions by the people who were there. This isn't quite as effective as the 9/11 footage in Columbine. Meanwhile, Bush is in an elementary school classroom reading "My Pet Goat", something that he continues to do for minutes after he becomes aware of the attacks. This is only part of the silliness that we see from Bush over the course of the movie.
Bush spends half the movie coming across as a comedian-hamming it up for the camera before making a serious speech--and the other half being painted as a gung-ho cowboy. Making a mockery of the President is nothing new as late night talk show hosts like Leno, Letterman and John Stewart have been doing it for years to better effect.
Instead, Moore goes to great lengths to show the ties between Bush, his administration and various Saudis and how those relationships stemmed from mutual business enterprises involving money and oil. To the politically minded who keep up with current events, particularly those that already question some of the government's decisions, the movie will be Manna from heaven. To others, the amount of information will make their eyes glaze over pretty quickly. Much of the most fascinating information is stuff that most will be learning for the first time-like the government's attempt to get the Bin Laden family out of the country mere days after 9/11-but essentially, the movie is a recap of some of the events that have happened during Bush's term in office, but spun with a clearly negative light.
Moore sees a controversy everywhere and in everything, but honestly, there's not as much controversy at work here as most would like you to believe. Moore tries to show how Bush and the government betrayed the American people, tried to confuse them from knowing the truth with terror alerts and the Patriot Act, showing some of the poor civilians harmed by the anti-terrorist decisions. To be honest, Moore isn't much better since he throws so much data and "facts" at the viewer through the movie that only the most astute will be able to keep track of it all and not get confused themselves.
At no point does Moore tell people not to vote for Bush, but he clearly stacks the deck against him being seen favorably. He does this in a very biased way, something that he freely admits. No Republicans are interviewed in the movie and no Bush representative is allowed to argue Moore's accusations. That said, the interviews taken from reputable news sources add a lot more credibility to Moore's claims, and the amount of recent footage keeps the movie current and pertinent. Of course, Moore's satire is in full effect, although 'Fahrenheit' isn't nearly as funny or entertaining as some of Moore's past work, maybe because it wouldn't be appropriate to make light of some of the serious subject matter discussed, particularly the war.
And that is when the movie finally gets into gear, showing the war in Iraq and the soldiers stationed there. It's a very different side to the war that hasn't been seen on the news. Though there are images that are disturbing, grisly and difficult to watch, it gives the movie more of a focus than just being Moore's personal attack on Bush. The movie even gets into the corporate greed* surrounding the war, as companies fight over contracts to make weapons and mine the Iraqi Oil.
Moore himself doesn't come off quite as well as he has in past movies either. Although there are a few of Moore's notorious stunts-riding through Washington in an ice cream truck reading the Patriot Act and trying to get senators to enlist their sons in the war in Iraq-he is less visible than he has been in his past movies. This is probably a good thing because he is not looking his best. He looks rather haggard, unkempt and out of shape, like he has been put through the wringer; it's a far cry from the jovial guy seen on television and earlier films.
Still, it's this everyman quality that allows Moore to get so close to his interview subjects. This is where Fahrenheit 9/11 excels, as Moore talks to everyday people about how the 9/11 attacks, the resulting legislation and war have affected them. The most moving of these interviews is the story of Lila Lipscomb, a military mom in Moore's hometown of Flint, Michigan, who tells Moore how proud she is of her military son. That is, until he's killed in Iraq, and we see her grief firsthand. She reads his last letter home in tearful sobs. This might have been the most powerful part of the movie, driving home the point that not all of the soldiers are happy with being sent to Iraq. It showcases Moore at his best, making his subjects feel comfortable enough to open up and share the most intimate portions of their life. Despite trying to win over the audience by tugging on their heartstrings, Moore never loses sight of his own personal agenda and just as things are settling into a good rhythm, he's back to attacking Bush again.
Unfortunately, Moore has a lot of ideas and the movie is rather unfocused and all over the place, from one subject to the next. Tighter editing could have helped it greatly. Technically, the movie isn't nearly as slick as some of Moore's previous documentaries or even his television show, since it's made up of assorted clips from news shows and CSPAN, as well as footage taken by freelancers in the field. This information is then filtered through Moore's own person biases to try to prove his point, something which he finally is able to do with the summation that ends the film.
If you're already against Bush, the movie will give you a few more laughs at his expense, but otherwise, it's unlikely to change your opinion of him, so it may not be as effective a tool in the election as Moore would hope. (Seeing footage of Bush speaking on the news the day after seeing this movie made me snicker even more than I usually do though.)
The Bottom Line:
Fahrenheit 9/11 isn't necessarily a great film, and it's not particularly entertaining unless you're someone who wakes up early on Sunday to watch the political shows. It is a well done though somewhat pointed documentary, and Moore's ability to find and assemble vast amounts of data and information and spin them into his own personal one-man anti-Bush propaganda is impressive. Still, the movie doesn't leave you thinking that Bush is bad or evil, as the media might have you believe, but it does create a powerful message that WAR is bad and that maybe our beloved leader isn't exactly the best person to be deciding when and with whom we should be waging it. Whether or not you agree with Moore's opinion or his interpretation of the data isn't as important as the way it takes an intensive look at the state of our government. For that alone, it demands to be seen by every American.
Fahrenheit 9/11 is in theatres nationwide and will add more cities over the course of the next month.
*Another upcoming documentary, Mark Achbar and Joel Bakan's The Corporation covers this territory in even greater detail.