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June 2004

By Julian Roman

Fahrenheit 9/11

Distributor: Lions Gate Films
Director: Michael Moore
Producers: Michael Moore, Kathleen Glynn, Jim Czarnecki
Screenwriter: Michael Moo



Fahrenheit 9/11 will sweep like a hurricane across America when it is released next week. It is grandly deserving of the controversy it creates. The film is essentially an ideological missive and character assassination of President George W. Bush. Director Michael Moore holds nothing back in excoriating Bush and his handling of the war on terror. This is not unexpected. Michael Moore's anti-Bush agenda is well known. No one walking into Fahrenheit 9/11 has any doubts about the film's purpose. It must be judged like every other film, on its merits, not on philosophical differences. Fahrenheit 9/11 is a brilliant documentary in every possible way. It runs the entire gamut of human emotion. It is funny, harrowing, despicable, grotesque, heartbreaking, shameless, and informative all at once. Moore succeeds in thoroughly grabbing your attention. He doesn't waste time with rhetoric or triviality. The film has a focus and he never deviates from it.

It begins comically with a lighthearted look of the 2000 election, the people that were involved, and Bush's pre-9/11 status as president. Then the film takes a radical emotional turn. The screen goes completely black as we hear vividly the sounds of the planes hitting the World Trade Center. Minutes pass as the drama unfolds in audio. This is a stroke of cinematic genius. Those images are forever burned in our minds. They don't have to be seen. Everyone knows exactly what is happening. The picture then returns with the horrified, grief-stricken faces of the people on the street. Moore does not let up with the emotional content. Some situations are funny and others are tragic. It is the reality of the times that Moore wants to depict. We laugh at a mother forced to drink her breast milk by airport security and weep as another mother tells of her son's death in combat.

Moore personalizes everything. There is always a face, an individual, attached to every discussed theme. It hammers in just how deeply we are touched by these events. His look at The Patriot Act and its effect on everyday America is quite cleverly done. He avoids all racial stereotypes and shows what happened to a bunch of middle-class whites. People that are obviously not terrorists subjugated by the government for their political beliefs. It's an example of how power misused can target the common man. Moore also infuses a lot of humor in this scenario by having congressmen explain that they never read The Patriot Act. It was printed in the middle of the night and passed with blind fervor the following day. A congressman jokingly quips that they'd never get anything done if they were forced to read every bill. Moore reacts by commandeering an ice cream truck and driving in front of the capitol building reading The Patriot Act over a megaphone.

The war itself is looked at from an Iraqi and American point of view. This is the most poignant and shocking part of the film. Many soldiers are interviewed, but their names and ranks are never revealed. They talk about the war from their perspective. It is very interesting because we are not used to hearing soldiers express opinions in the field. Most of them despise being there and blame Bush for putting them into a quagmire. The Iraqis also hate the occupation. There is footage of a night raid on an Iraqi family. It is extremely dehumanizing. Their sense of rage at such treatment is evident. This is a hundred times worse when the escalating violence is factored in and they react to the shrapnel pierced bodies of children killed by explosive devices. Scenes like these are meant to create outrage. Moore could have shown happy images of soldiers building schools and handing out candy. Critics of the film are bound to bring this up. It's not there because it doesn't fit into Moore's view of the war. Once again, this is his belief and the one he chooses to express.

George W. Bush is front and center throughout the film. Archival footage is used at key moments to reinforce Moore's perspective of Bush. To say it paints an unflattering picture is a huge understatement. Bush comes off looking like an imbecile. One of Moore's favorite tricks is showing footage of Bush before and after the neat little soundbites are over. It's pretty damning. Moore spends a lot of time focusing on Bush's financial link with Saudi Arabia and Usama Bin Laden's family. This information has been known for some time, so it's not as if any new ground is being broken; but a lot of people are unaware of this and will find it very interesting.

The role of big business, a favorite target of Moore's, is also explored. He discusses a little known fact that most people have never heard of. Iraq is obviously valuable because of its vast oil reserves. Why then is Afghanistan so important on the world stage, because it is the easiest route to build an oil and natural gas pipeline to the Caspian Sea. This is the reason why the Russians conquered Afghanistan. Moore has footage with the leaders of the Taliban visiting the big oil companies in Houston. He resolutely targets oil companies and defense contractors for their vested interest in the war on terrorism. The Bush family has many professional and financial affiliations with the said industries. Moore uses that as additional fodder to question Bush's motives in attacking Iraq.

The greatest achievement of Fahrenheit 9/11 is not Moore's indictment of Bush, but his portrayal of the class structure in America. He shows footage of the destroyed buildings in Iraq and immediately cuts to the dilapidated homes of Flint, Michigan, his hometown. Military recruiters are seeing scouring the streets looking for poor kids to recruit. They are like duplicitous car salesmen looking for the next deal. They brazenly talk about targeting youths in an impoverished area because they are easier to get. Options are limited and many choose the military as a way to college, never dreaming they'd be fighting a war. Moore embraces this theme off elitism. Poor children go off to fight while rich children enjoy the benefits of their service. His best camera stunt is when he goes to Congress and asks them to enlist their children in the military. It turns out that only one congressperson has an enlisted child out of its five hundred and thirty-eight members.

Fahrenheit 9/11 won the Palme D'Or at this year's Cannes Film Festival in France. Only the Academy Award for Best Film surpasses this prize in the world of cinema. Europe, especially the French, vehemently opposed the war in Iraq. Many people believe politics played an important part in the decision to award Fahrenheit 9/11. That is possible, but it doesn't take anything away from the movie. The film is good enough to warrant such an accolade. It is an astonishing work from a great documentarian. It is fascinating from the first second to last. Even those who hate Moore's politics must admit it is an intriguing film. It succeeds, at the very least, as a viable piece of artistic expression worth discussing.