Review: “Fahrenheit 9/11”

Like religious background was to “The Passion of the Christ”, a person’s political views will play a big part in their enjoyment/hatred of Michael Moore’s new documentary feature and try as one might, being truly objective about it as a film will be near impossible. Many reviews already have focused more on the critic’s personal take on the whole last three years of US and world politics than actually reviewing the feature itself which is understandable but doesn’t actually qualify as to what they’re writing as a review. So I’ll get my stance, issues, etc. out of the way first and then get on with reviewing the actual product rather than its influence. Skip ahead if you wish.

I’m not religious at all and for the most part as liberal as it gets (pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage/adoption, pro-euthanasia, etc.). The last three years have seen the political arena of the world change and like many, I’ve been involved in arguments over politics that have lead to screaming matches over dining tables and on bar couches. I love America but I despise the Bush Government, I love my home country of Australia but I loathe the Howard Government, I love my other home country of England and was jazzed when Tony Blair got first elected, now I can’t wait to see him go.

Like it or not George W. Bush has polarised not only American’s political viewpoints but the rest of the world’s as well. I’m not going to launch into some diatribe as to why in my opinion the whole Iraqi war was a useless PR exercise turned unmitigated disaster which innocent people on both sides paid for dearly with their lives. Quite frankly George W. Bush and his administration’s actions since early 2002 have scared the crap out of me far more than any political leader I’ve ever known in my admittedly young 26 year life.

Has he made moves that have benefitted the American people? I’m sure he has. Yet he’s also made other decisions which he deserves to be taken to task for – the whole point of having a democracy is being able to question our leaders about every decision they make (price of freedom equals eternal vigilance, yada yada). That’s why the people I can’t stand when discussing politics aren’t the ones who lean a particular way due to a well-informed decision, it’s the ones who stubbornly refuse to listen to any other viewpoint and not consider it – the kind who label people ‘traitors’ just for questioning what’s been happening and make idiotic statements like “lets nuke all the Middle East” cause they believe in both their own moral superiority and everything they have been told by friends and the media (whose so called ‘liberal bias’ has all but disappeared these days). Those people need to wake up and get a clue, and they’re also the ones who’re going to hate this film no matter what.

Now, Michael Moore I consider an interesting filmmaker who can take the usually dry genre of documentary film and add a nice ironic sense of humor whilst remaining very topical and interesting. He knows how to direct and edit things in a way that keeps the pace fast and the issues tightly focussed, yet mixes them in with some strong personal vignettes of everyday people. That said, he’s also hopelessly unobjective – he has no problems with shameless self-promotion and seems more than happy to bend or adjust facts to fit his own agenda rather than trying to balance both sides of the argument. As a result whilst his docos are entertaining and interesting, the credibility of their facts is heavily undermined.

The fact is though anyone, whether they be liberal or conservative, who goes into exploring an issue with a pre-set agenda can’t possibly hope to deliver an objective look at said issue. Moore is very anti-Bush and pro-liberal in his viewpoints, if the same issue were explored by a similar pro-Bush and anti-liberal stanced person say Ann Coulter or anyone who works for Fox News, would they twist the facts just as much to suit their own argument – of course they do, in fact those examples have been doing it already for years now. If there’s one thing I admire about the ‘right’ is that it has spokespeople who aren’t afraid to go at it tooth and nail in a fight for their political beliefs, Moore cops a lot of flack cause he’s one of the few of us lefties who has any real balls to put himself out there and go at it for what he believes in (especially if it helps line his pockets, hey it’s a capitalist country after all).

Still, it doesn’t matter which side of the fence you’re on, people will always twist facts to suit their own arguments – its par for the course in terms of politics. Rights will label Moore a propaganda-spielling, self-righteous d-ck who rattles of unsubstantiated claims, which is a fair enough claim. Then again lefts will label someone like Ann Coulter a propaganda-spielling, self-righteous c–t who rattles of unsubstantiated claims – also a fair assessment.

Onto the review itself and what to say about “Fahrenheit 9/11”. It’s certainly Moore’s most technically accomplished film yet – having him sparingly appear and focussing more on the topic at hand is a real strength, as is the choice of topic and avenues explored. It’s not as easily digestible or colorful as “Bowling for Columbine”, but it does go for the issues more. From its simple opening on Bush’s “classroom antics” to the audio only version of the 9/11 attacks, the film has been made very carefully to attack the Government but do so without treading on any toes of the victims. A difficult move but Moore pulls it off well.

That said it’s not the revelation that it promotes itself to be. “Fahrenheit” is essentially a very Democrat viewpoint retrospective of US politics and Bush’s fights against terrorism over the last three years. Assorted facts have been covered a lot in the news (esp. in the foreign media here) for years now, the few new facts it brings up do raise eyebrows, but Moore sabotages that by trying to make some very bold accusations which the ‘evidence’ only very speculatively hints at. The first half feels essentially like a big ‘Fuck You’ message to George Bush, an idea I’m all happy for, but if you’re going to do that at least don’t do some of the childish tactics and narration that Moore will occasionally stoop to here.

Yet, the few wince inducing lines are compensated for by his collection of clips. Utilising an amazing library of news footage, he quite efficiently looks back at the 2000 election debacle and the events up through and including Pakistan and Iraq. There’s a lot of rather dry information here but he delivers it with a sly humorous wink and in a way that’s very easy to digest. Combined with a bunch of fascinating interview subject, he bridges the gap between the personal and the political with such ease it’s quite refreshing.

Still, it’s a long process and the pacing does get sluggish towards the end of the first half. Moore peppers things with some amusing soundbites (such as a shocking Britney Spears comment), but when the focus dwells on the Saudi connections and the tie-ing together of the Bush and Bin Laden families, Moore seems desperate to make a point which, whilst believable, is neither damning or backed up. Then halfway through, the film changes to focus on the war on Iraq.

From that point on this really does become the best film of the year. Combining footage of the warfare and horror in Iraq, the almost brainwashed gung-ho statements of the US soldiers, the very real reactions of Iraqi civilians, and the personal stories of families whose sons & daughters were killed in action, it’s emotional and affecting. The pace flows better, the comedy quietens down but turns a little darker (eg. the very disturbing Army recruiters scene), and the raw emotion such as Lila Lipscomb’s devastating breakdown in Washington will touch people on both sides of the argument.

It’s not a perfect film but it is a superbly executed and very comprehensive one. The almost childish at times attacks at George W. Bush and his ‘terrorist connections’ are hilarious, informative and a little dubious, nevertheless it hopefully will open people’s eyes and make them realise the unrefuteable fact that in the last three years thanks mostly to the Bush Government, the US has lost much of the luster and support it once had from its allies overseas. “Fahrenheit” may not be a life-changing film as it promises to be, but it sure is a jaw-dropping one.