The Good: Well developed, Thoughtfully presented, Excellent footage and message, Remarkably little bias
The Bad: Could have used more punch/was not effective
The Basics: With a remarkable use of archived footage and documents, Michael Moore exposes the conspiracy to get the U.S. to attack Iraq in Fahrenheit 9/11.
[As I start moving my documentary reviews into my blog now that my Best Picture Project is once again over, I am starting with my favorite. This review was originally written the first weekend the film was released and I have kept the text unchanged because, like the documentary itself, the review captures the time and place exceptionally well. Enjoy!]
A lot of people mistakenly compare Rush Limbaugh and Michael Moore and it is an inapt analogy to compare the two, not because of their political differences, but because of what and how they present it. I know this because, in the course of researching various things over the years, I have turned on Limbaugh's program to listen to it. Know thy enemy, that sort of thing. On Limbaugh's program, he falls into the cheap debating tricks and mistakes known to anyone with a decent education as logical fallacies. He attacks individuals making debates, instead of focusing on the issues (ad hominem), he implies anyone who is disagrees with him is stupid (snob appeal) and he calls his adversaries childish names like "Spend-o-crat" and "femi-nazis" (just plain annoying and immature). Michael Moore does none of those things and his latest outing, Fahrenheit 9/11 goes a huge way toward showing how decent an argument Moore may make.
Unlike Limbaugh and his loudmouthed assertions and accusations, Moore presents Fahrenheit 9/11 with remarkably little of his own narrative voice, relying instead on the voices of experts in the fields of government, interrogation, military living and psychology, to make his arguments for him. Indeed, most of the damning evidence that is presented in this movie comes from the mouths of the individuals Moore is implicating. They repeatedly (often) make his points through the things they say and the video footage of what they are doing.
Fahrenheit 9/11 is a sweeping documentary that explores the downfall of the United States of America over the past four years. It illustrates how Al Gore conceded the 2000 election and stepped aside instead of fighting to the death when a single news organization made a decision about how the election was decided. The movie illustrates the ineptness of George W. Bush in his first months in office, his expansive leisure time and then the attacks that came on September 11, 2001. Following some of the movie's most engrossing and emotive scenes (many of which are simply the sounds of the September 11, 2001 attacks), the movie takes a good deal of time illustrating the links between George W. Bush and his cronies in Big Business. The latter half of Fahrenheit 9/11 shows how the U.S. became engrossed in a war in Iraq, how the public was deceived and the effect it has had on the soldiers in Iraq and the citizens of both Iraq and the United States.
I have a tendency to agree with Roger Ebert on a great many film-related things. He lambasted White Chicks and I found myself made ill by the previews alone for the movie. This morning on the radio, Ebert was praising Fahrenheit 9/11, but noting that it is likely to have less impact than Moore would wish by the fact that it is preaching to the choir. I believe he is right. The people who need most to see this movie are likely not to (yet still lambaste Moore for making it) if they are steadfast Conservatives or unlikely to if they are simply politically on the fence. Both groups should watch this documentary and here is why:
Conservatives should watch Fahrenheit 9/11 because it will allow them to (at worst, if they approach it with a closed mind) adequately argue against the points Moore makes in the movie. At worst, a Conservative should watch this movie to see what their educated adversaries are saying and develop an educated and insightful response to it. Unfortunately, the only conservative response I have thus heard is "Michael Moore is a Big, Fat, Stupid White Man" (ad hominem again, on many levels). Intelligent Conservatives - and you're out there letting people with more hot air and less education and articulation speak for you - can use Fahrenheit 9/11 to voice an educated Conservative debate in the attempt to debunk what is made clear in this movie.
At best, Conservatives and those in the political center or on the fence as where to vote in November, can come away with the message that George W. Bush is not the leader of the masses in the United States, nor should he be. Centrists, especially, will come away from this movie questioning the validity of George W. Bush and his agenda. As well, the most educated Conservatives may admit that Bush is not representing them, their attitudes, and their interests. And there is no shame in that. The highest 1% of the wealth in this nation did not all vote for Bush and, moreover, his supporters are not all rich white guys. Indeed, a good number of Conservatives come from some of the poorest areas of the South and Midwest and the traditional Conservative values that they stand for are not represented through George W. Bush.
How does this movie effectively illustrate that Bush's personal agenda is not even the views of most people? First, it uses a remarkable array of poignant citations. Moore includes newspaper clippings, government documents and expert testimony in Fahrenheit 9/11. A far cry from being simple soundbytes or half-developed arguments, Moore often uses long clips of testimony, many of the most damaging coming right from the mouth of George W. Bush. A decent Conservative with genuine self respect will falter watching this movie when they see the inarticulation of the leader they have been supporting.
Second, Moore's most powerful ally in disarming the Conservative faction is through the use of his most potent case study. A good portion of the movie follows the journey of a mother of a soldier in Iraq. Presented in such a way as to cause the viewer to question Moore's motives for using her, Moore presents a woman from Flint, Michigan who easily illustrates a love of her country, her family and soldiers. If you read any reviews or hear any commentary on Fahrenheit 9/11 alleging this to be the work of those freeloading, longhaired flag-burning Liberals, the first question you must pose to the person is "Did you actually watch the movie?" There could not be a better example of a case contrary to all of those things than the one presented and Moore effectively uses her to eliminate such simple arguments.
Moreover, Moore is remarkably unbiased in his presentation. How can I say that? Despite his obvious dislike of Bush and his regime, Moore does not side with the Democrats, showing their ineffectual resistance and utter compliance with the Conservatives in accepting without challenge the declarations of the opposition. Moore effectively condemns the Democrats for their acceptance of George Bush through illustrating their own impotence and unwillingness to fight on behalf of the people who voted for them. I, personally, was glad to see members of the Black Caucus as they fought on the day of the Electoral College voting. I was glad to see it then and I am overjoyed that Moore included it in the movie. Moore very effectively balances a lot of arguments that could be viewed as simply partisan.
The rest of the time, he lets the facts speak for themselves to make his case. He shows - in very graphic detail - the horrors of war, the carnage unleashed on Iraq and the results of it. He shows the members of the Bush Administration repeating lies to the American people and he makes remarkably little commentary on them.
In fact, one of the greatest strengths of Fahrenheit 9/11 is in how minimally Moore is in it. I like Michael Moore (as recent reviews of mine of two of his books would indicate). But the truth is, his style of ambushing politicians and businesspeople and putting them on camera without necessarily warning them, can be seen as exceptionally abrasive. Indeed, many Conservative elements - who have no problem saying the most ugly homophobic, hateful racist and sexist remarks when they broadcast their opinions over the television and radio - seem to find it uncomfortable and annoying when anyone openly challenges them away from the safety and sanctity of their podium. Moore is seen as a "bad guy" by many of them because he approaches and dogs them away from the places where they are comfortable and unchallenged in their viewpoints. It's all "hellfire will rain on you, sinner!" when they are on the radio, but out back when Moore challenges them to talk, it's all "go away, stop invading my privacy! You're what's wrong with America!" And they call liberals wimps.
Sorry, that was ad hominem. Wait, actually, it was not; several conservatives have called liberals wimps. I remember many people calling Dukakis a wimp. I take back my apology.
My point here is that Moore does not fall into those tactics of dogging people in Fahrenheit 9/11. In fact, the only people he even comes close to chasing are various members of Congress and then only to ask them to help get their own sons enlisted in the war in Iraq. Moore effectively disarms many of his most vocal critics, simply by minimizing his own role in the movie and it works incredibly well. He makes his points expertly without clouding them with his personality (but for those of you who like him, like me, there's plenty of his wit and humor left in).
If you have read Stupid White Men (reviewed here!) or Dude, Where's My Country (reviewed here!), there's not a lot of new information here. Why see the movie, then? Seeing the information Moore has written about is remarkably powerful. You'll laugh, you'll cry. You'll cry. But more than that, you'll want to act. And in an election year, - and well beyond - you should want to act. This is not a ridiculous comment like "Fight the Power," this is the reminder, the wake-up call from the sense of civics most people leave behind in 5th grade; WE ARE THE POWER.
Or, we can and should be.
Fahrenheit 9/11, at its best, should awaken in those who have been sleeping through history, sleeping through their inner sense of outrage on current events, and encourage them to act. In Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back, the Internet is defined as a place where people all over the world can share pornography and complain about movies. I certainly do my share of complaining about everything on-line and I would like to close by saying this; if you are someone who has been inactive since the election scandal in 2000 or you have simply accepted current events as "simply the way things are" or you know of someone else who does, go see (or take your comrade to see) Fahrenheit 9/11. The worst it may do is cost you a couple dollars and two hours of your life. At best, it will get you out of your daze and into the world where (especially WITH your friend) you ARE the power.
It's time to take it back.
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© 2011, 2004 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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