Eye For Film >> Movies >> Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004) Film Review
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
One of only three documentaries admitted at Cannes in 50 years, and winner of the Palm d'Or, Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 is one of the hottest films this year. So hot, in fact, that it nearly didn't come out at all, with Miramax owners Disney threatening to prevent its distribution, an action which Moore ascribed to political conspiracy and which others noted made a nice pile of money for the parent company when it finally sold its controversial property. Fahrenheit 9/11 is all about politics and money and never makes any secret of its left wing agenda. Many people will go to see it simply for this reason. It was always going to be a big statement. The curious thing is that it's also a good film in its own right.
The difference between this film and other documentaries on the War Against Terror is summed up by its coverage of the events of the 11th of September 2001 themselves. These are played out against a black screen; we've all already seen the pictures; all we have here is the soundtrack of screaming, frightened, confused people, which hits a lot harder as a result. Later footage concentrates on human reactions rather than on the event itself.
As in Bowling For Columbine, Moore's focus is on the climate of fear experienced by Americans in the aftermath of violence, but this is a much more mature piece of film-making. Most of the snide remarks and ridiculing of public naivete are gone. Moore seems to have come to terms with the fact that people can disagree with him and still be worthy of sympathy, and this enables him to feature some much more powerful interviews, including that at the emotional heart of the film, with a woman whose lifelong commitment to her country right or wrong is shaken by her personal encounter with the ugliness of war.
As a persuasive argument, this film still leaves something to be desired. Moore retains his tendency to simply not mention factors which run against his argument (am I wrong in remembering the UK and Spain being part of the Coalition of the Willing?), making it easy for opponents to cut him down. Footage intended to highlight the ineffectiveness of countries like Iceland and Morocco may provide some light relief, but is still unpleasantly close to racism. For an international audience, the number of reaction shots and follow-up comments jars, though this is unlikely to be an issue for audiences used to the more personal style of the US media.
International audiences will also be more familiar with much of the archive footage on display, some of which has been suppressed by the US media. Though there's still nothing here more horrific than the recent pictures of torture victims shown at primetime across the States, people may find that images of American corpses upset them in a different way, and likewise the images of Iraqi children injured in the conflict. Visuals like this, running alongside Moore's well-documented collection of links between US government officials, arms and oil companies, and the Saudi Arabian regime. may well win over some of those who previously disagreed with him. It's unfortunate that these are supported by clips of George W Bush behaving like an imbecile which, frankly, might be easy enough to compile about anyone on their off days, and which contribute little to the political debate.
The idea of going to see a political documentary will in itself be off-putting to many viewers; controversy aside, does it sound like a fun night out? In this regard, Fahrenheit 9/11 actually works very well. It balances intensive lists of facts and figures with largely visual sequences, carefully chosen music and some touching human moments. Despite the weight of its subject matter, the film has plenty of energy and retains a sense of humour. For once, Moore manages not to let his personal sense of outrage overshadow the varied opinions expressed by his interview subjects; the film is at its strongest when these interviews, and the archive footage, are telling their own story. Astute pacing means that the film grips most of the way through. Though in some ways it's frustrating to see closely related issues ignored, this was an awful lot to take on, and it's clearly had to be fiercely edited to get it down to a palatable size. This is an impressive example of how to make the documentary film work both as a political tool and as a piece of cinema. Make sure you see it while you can.Reviewed on: 11 Jul 2007