Hilarious and yet chilling, “Bowling for Columbine” stands out not only as a truly superb documentary but one of the best films of the year – period. Starting off with the documentarian’s hilarious venture into a bank which curiously enough gives away free guns with new accounts, Moore delivers a doco whose primary focus is to entertain and he delivers that in spades, yet nevertheless ponders the question of not only gun control but why is the US such a violent society.
Anyone who asks that will immediately come up with a handful of common responses and yet Moore manages to destroy pretty much the most common excuses that people use – ethnicity, number of guns per capita, cost of living, etc. are all shown to have no effect. Whilst the doco never truly answers that big question, its great to see someone not only bringing it up but proactively pursuing it.
Kids who’ve been thrown out of school for violence, Timothy McVeigh’s partner in the Oklahoma City Bombing, TV producers like Matt Stone (“South Park”) and the guy behind “Cops”, Marilyn Manson, various Canadians, and an unforgettable venture into Charlton Heston’s LA mansion – Moore manages to ask the big questions in his various interviews which he knows will generate reaction or strong answers and yet his everyman appeal gives him the ability to get away with it much easier than a polished professional ala Diane Sawyer.
In between these are some unforgettable skits ranging from a side-splitting animated “History of America” to a powerful segment in which two survivors of the Columbine massacre confront K-Mart to return the bullets imbedded in their bodies. Even though its got little to do with gun control, Moore offers up a brief history of US imperialism over the last century (eg. installing leaders like Pinochet and Noriega) which is very surprising for not only an American film but one coming at a time when anti-US sentiment within the nation’s own borders is at ultra low levels.
Not all of it works though. There’s an attempt made to tie weapons manufacturer Lockheed Martin into the shootings but it feels like Moore is clutching at straws with this. The doco also runs on a bit long at a little over two hours with a side trip to Canada feeling a little padded out. Nevertheless for its length its surprisingly how consistently engrossing this is.
Moore manages to swap between sheer outright shock to belly-busting laughter and back again all in the space of a minute or two – the tone constantly changes and yet its easy to keep up. Its a project which asks the big questions and looks at the issue from a very balanced viewpoint without ever drumming its values into you – rather allowing you the viewer to make up your own mind. Smart, funny, incisive and abundantly clever.