The Good: Moments of genuinely decent documenting
The Bad: Uses same tactics he accuses Moore of, Repetitive, Boring
The Basics: As Michael Wilson expresses his outrage at Michael Moore's Bowling For Columbine and declares everything is fine in the U.S., the audience gets bored.
I am not a Michael Moore apologist. I like some of his writings, I've enjoyed some of his films, but I do not gloss over when he edits footage or truncates to make his points. The truth is, virtually every filmmaker does that because there are time limits and most documentarians have a point they're looking to make. One of the strengths, for example, of Fahrenheit 9/11 (reviewed here!) is that Moore says so little and he lets the clips speak for themselves and allows his subjects to damn themselves. So, when I saw the DVD Michael Moore Hates America, I was a bit intrigued and I decided it might be worthwhile to watch it, in the interest of academic balance and honesty.
The search for academic honesty is not exactly what Michael Moore Hates America is all about and filmmaker Michael Wilson seems to want to capitalize on an inflammatory title and a feeling of protectiveness to Charlton Heston to make his argument. The truth is, Michael Moore Hates America does not even venture into exploring any validity to the title, save an exchange where Moore and Wilson disagree over the title, and the documentary is more boring than enlightening.
Michael Wilson, budding filmmaker, was bothered by the film Bowling For Columbine and believed that Moore's statements about the direction America was headed in in regards to the Iraq War and outsourcing jobs and economic oppression were fallacious and they deserved to be exposed as lies. Wilson set out to document his own attempt to meet documentarian Michael Moore and to interview those who agreed with him about Michael Moore's films and the inherent greatness of the United States of America.
In the course of the film, Wilson exposes that Flint, Michigan is not Michael Moore's home town, Penn Jillette sees Moore's films as utilizing the same techniques as his series, Moore will not participate in a film called Michael Moore Hates America and economic hardships do not truly exist in the United States. At least, not where Moore claims they are, because urban revitalization has begun in places like Flint.
Things are okay in America and Michael Moore should shut up; those are the dominant themes of Michael Moore Hates America, which focuses mostly on Wilson's reaction to Bowling For Columbine. Indeed, "Michael Wilson Dislikes Bowling For Columbine" would have been a far more accurate title for this film. As I mentioned in my review of Bowling For Columbine, near the end of the film, Moore goes off on a tangent and hunts down Charlton Heston to get an interview and try to get an apology for appearing in Columbine for an NRA meeting shortly after the school killings there. Not my favorite part of the movie.
The problem with Michael Moore Hates America is that anyone watching the film would come away with the idea that Bowling For Columbine was about Moore hunting down Heston and that is simply not entirely true. The film includes this as a minor aspect of the film, but it is not about that any more than The Empire Strikes Back is truly about AT-ATs. Yes, they appear briefly in the film (and yes, they are very cool), but they are not what the film is about.
But what Michael Moore Hates America is about is Michael Wilson walking around on a personal vendetta to expose Moore as a fraud in any way possible. He enlists conservative commentator Dinesh D'Souza, author of Letters To A Young Conservative (reviewed here!), Penn Jillette, documentary filmmaker Albert Maysles, and Congressman J.C. Watts. There are clips as well of Moore from various programs edited such that it appears that Moore loathes America and has nothing good to say about it. So, for example, when Moore discusses the poor state of health care and the war in Iraq and comments that other nations shouldn't be emulating the United States now, Wilson truncates it and includes it with a number of other out of context statements to appear that Moore is just constantly railing on the U.S.
The big problem with Michael Moore Hates America outside that the title is not truly what the film is about and is never adequately explored, much less proven, is that it ultimately has a pointless quality to it. Wilson was upset by Moore's movie and thinks that Moore owes him an explanation for his difference of opinion. It's not the high point of the film - intellectually or otherwise - when Moore responds to Wilson's title with a statement about Wilson being what's wrong with American and that Wilson hates America. But the people who came up to Wilson after that exchange and said Moore somehow "owed" Wilson the interview simply play into his own rhetoric.
And the movie is boring. Not since watching George W. Bush: Faith In The White House (reviewed here!) have I seen something that opens with such an unflinching bias and continues it throughout under the guise of being something better than its competitors or detractors. Take for example, Wilson's accusation that Moore misleads his viewers by utilizing footage achieved through dishonest means. Wilson starts the argument by disproving that it was as easy to get a gun from a bank like Moore did in Bowling For Columbine. But then, he misleads one of the people he is interviewing in order to get him to admit Michael Moore is a native of his city, not Flint, a fact Wilson already had in his possession. On camera, producer Curt Johnson chides Wilson for getting the footage and Wilson apologizes to the person.
The problem is, he still uses the footage.
This is the academic equivalent of a police officer getting information through an illegal search and seizure, but the judge allowing the evidence to be presented anyway; the jury pool is tainted. In Michael Moore Hates America, it doesn't matter that Wilson apologizes for manipulating his interviewee; he still used the footage! It's disappointing that he used it and it seems somewhat pathetic that he bothers to apologize for the deception after the fact.
Moreover, Wilson is not exactly utilizing the most credible sources in Michael Moore Hates America. He cites conservatives and people who admit they do not like Michael Moore. His main resource is Penn Jillette of cable television's Bullsh!t and while Jillette is an interesting source of information on sleight of hand, his journalistic credentials are not the most noteworthy. In other words, just because he is an expert on sleight of hand does not make him an expert on Michael Moore's films and whether or not Moore is actually applying those techniques in his films.
Ultimately, Michael Moore Hates America is just a collection of accusations that are more boring than insightful. From the film, the most we learn is that Moore edited footage in Bowling For Columbine and that Michael Wilson was upset by that. And anyone looking for a genuine intellectual debate or presentation will be disappointed, no matter what side of the aisle you are on.
On DVD the film is a bare-bones presentation with only trailers as bonuses.
For other documentaries, please check out my reviews of:
Super Size Me
Bowling For Columbine
Lost In La Mancha
For other movie reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!
© 2011, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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