Fahrenheit 9/11 Review
I should say straight up that I have mixed feelings about Michael Moore. I think he’s a bit of a one-trick pony. His idée fixe – Bush is bad, get rid of Bush – I happen to agree with, but his methodology is sometimes less than sound. If you’ve read Stupid White Men, you’ve read Dude Where’s My Country, and, essentially, you’ve seen Fahrenheit 9/11, because Moore basically treads the same path over and over, bringing nothing new to the table.
Fahrenheit 9/11 begins with Al Gore’s Florida victory turning sour. There’s some depressing but confusing footage from the Supreme Court, when African Americans (members of congress, politicians?) protest the vote-rigging, but without the support of a senator, nothing can be done. Then on to Bush’s inauguration; scenes of Bush holidaying (endless games of golf and fishing), and then – the day of reckoning, and the events leading up to the Iraq War. Moore exposes the close ties between the Bush family, the Saudis, and the Bin Ladens, and the utter determination of the Bush Administration to wage war on Iraq.
The emotional centre of Fahrenheit 9/11 is the story of a military mother who, after losing her son in Iraq, travels to Washington to confront her demons. Outside the White House, she is confronted by a passer-by who angrily informs her that the anti-war protests are staged. Replying ‘my son is dead, and that’s not staged’ her legs buckle, and she breaks down. Her tragedy is real, and yet… well, call me hard-hearted, but if you join the army, at some point you should know that you may be asked to kill and die for your country. That’s what being a professional soldier is.
Moore balances this by pointing out that its generally the poor and working class youth, deprived of all other opportunities by the decline of traditional manufacturing industries, who are the main targets of US army recruiters. He illustrates this beautifully by asking members of congress if they’d be willing to send their children off to fight for their country. None are. But targeting the poor and disadvantaged for military service is nothing new, nor it confined to the US – the rank and file of Wellington’s armies were men so poor that the King’s Shilling sounded like riches to them.
Mocking Bush is almost too easy. His malapropisms and good old boy manner give him the air of a simpleton, and yet he’s not. He might not be the sharpest tool in the box, but he’s still the most powerful man in the world, with friends in high places. Sometimes, in order to get his points across in an accessible fashion, Moore infantilises the material, as when he illustrates how the FBI should have questioned the Bin Laden family with clips from Dragnet.
If you’ve never read anything by Michael Moore, then his arguments – and his muck-raking – in the documentary will seem fresh, and there’s no doubt that the edited news footage and interviews make a powerful visual statement beyond anything that print is capable of. But as a documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 is pretty average. It lacks the emotional grip of a film like Spellbound or Touching the Void. It’s too long and risks becoming repetitious. For those of us already convinced that the Iraq war was wrong, well, that’s a given. We get it, Mike!
Still, in a world where the free press is anything but, and where calling George Bush an asshole can land you in jail, Fahrenheit 9/11 is a good thing. Moore’s heart is in the right place, and I’m glad he’s around making this kind of film and writing his books, because America needs him.
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