Eye For Film >> Movies >> Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004) Film Review
Reviewed by: Scott Macdonald
To discuss the purpose of the documentary is pointless. Film as a medium cannot be objective. A director must write, select and knit together a narrative to tell a story. And it should never be confused with detached journalism. Those critics who call for Michael Moore to be objective merely want him to make a film more in line with their viewpoints.
Fahrenheit 9/11 tells his story of George W. Bush as a weak military leader and, in a very funny opening scene, an incompetent and illegitimate president. Moore doesn't have to rake too hard and, by focusing on Bush, we get the point straight away, but he keeps returning to him again and again, driving through the onionskins of White House bureaucracy. As an example, the President's military record has been censored. When compared to the legally obtained original copy, it reveals the involvement of an investment banker and a chain of Saudi money, tying the Bush family to nearly $1.4billion of investment capital.
Perhaps, it's just the way that we British see the American government from the outside, and, while we have a distinctly unwilling part in the "coalition of the willing", it's fair to say that some US voters may need to be unsubtly brought the message that George W. Bush cannot stay in power, to say nothing of his UK Labour Party counterpart, British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
What I see when I watch Fahrenheit 9/11 in the cinema is a brilliantly charged polemic. Sick to death of his government's bullshit, Moore writes, campaigns and inspires others to stand up for their rights, with a furious string of arguments and social essays ; visual, spoken and written. His jumped-up, passionate nature has already marginalised him with the US media and selective segments of power. Watch as US senators turn tail and run, when he confronts them with signing their children up to "the fictitious war."
The film's best moments echo those of Moore's previous muckraker, Bowling for Columbine - two scenes in particular. One is a highly emotional encounter of a mother, Lila Lipscomb, whose son has been killed in Iraq. She makes a trip to Washington DC to vent her rage at a system which brought her son to his end, needlessly. It's a devastating story and makes for a heartbreaking rendition in film, reminiscent to me of the moment in Columbine when two kids go to K-Mart to "return their merchandise" with bullets embedded in their bodies.
The other reminder is a section where the means of controlling populace is exposed, through abusing fear through the media. Much like the ironic and hilarious incidents in Bowling For Columbine when businesses are charged over making money through scare stories, like "killer bees". Fahrenheit 9/11 has a companion piece to this, with a man selling hopelessly inadaquate quick-fasten parachutes in the oh-so-likely event should a plane hit a skyscraper again.
The arguments that the film is unfocused and shotgun scattered are valid, if missing the point. What it does is take lots of evidence and spread it thickly for the audience to decipher for itself. Like Oliver Stone, Moore mixes mediums freely to support his point, leaving others to do their own research on issues that he doesn't have time to cover. His purpose is to inspire further debate and action.
The final third of the documentary is the hardest to take, since it's entirely concerned with the war in Iraq. There is a fair amount of shocking and disarmingly demonising footage here. A public beheading (a wide-shot, but nothing like I imagined), bodies burned beyond recognition, soldiers with limbs missing. There's something ultimately unclean about being confronted with human mutilation that stirs sympathy and forces your attention. Moore knows this and he's a smart argumentarian, splicing commentary through footage selection.
The same technique is used earlier in a moment when the screen is blank and the film's audio fills in the gaps of the planes striking the World Trade Center. It then shows us the faces of onlookers, stunned, shocked and almost ghost-like, which feels like an echo of the best short film of 11'09''01, in which Alejandro González Iñárritu tells the story almost entirely through sound and indistinct blurred camerawork, with an emotionally devastating effect.
During this section, Moore exposes the corrupt corporate nature of rebuilding Iraq, when opportunities for raking billions of dollars are being discussed over fine food and champagne by men in suits, when the oil starts flowing again, of course, and the country is "free." The film shows cheerfully cynical recruiting campaigns for fresh military grunts from the poorest sections of the nation, places like Moore's hometown in Michigan, where unemployment is rife and there's no financial chance of education to help them. His rage in siphoning off these people to die for a government that won't care for their futures is palpable and justified.
As in Bowling For Columbine, Moore misses the mark wildly during some of the film's most obvious and silly moments. When he attempts to parody serious procedurals, it falls flat. Comparing Dragnet to the FBI had me groaning and shaking my head in disgust. Also, scenes of pre-war Baghdad had me revulsing. They were living under a dictator, not to mention sanctions and embargoes, and Moore precisely chooses images of smiling women and children playing before Shock And Awe hit the city, causing this moment to ring alarmingly hollow. His relentless commentary on the events is occasionally too much, drowning the viewer in facts and figures, as we reach the flabby middle section.
Moore's film is a sledgehammer; a raw and passionate film, which is concluded with a splendid emotive and humourous montage and dedication. I admire him for his boldness and apparent sincerity. I make no apologies if this review reflects my political leanings.Reviewed on: 09 Jul 2004