Going into Fahrenheit 11/9, I was honestly expecting a mediocre film. Did anyone see his last one, Michael Moore in Trumpland? I saw the announcement that he was working on this new film on Late Night with Stephen Colbert, and I thought he flubbed it. His last few movies have been underwhelming, as you can see from my lukewarm review from the premiere of Where to Invade Next. Is this guy relevant in the social media age, where the outrage is everywhere, and new info comes at an hourly pace?
I was wrong. Fahrenheit 11/9 is a return to form for Michael Moore – back to the populism of Roger and Me, and a return to the outrage of Fahrenheit 9/11. It got a standing ovation to a packed house at the world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on Thursday night.
Will Fahrenheit 11/9 have the impact of Roger and Me, or Fahrenheit 9/11? Probably not, because the media landscape is different now. Even still, it does feel like he’s tapping into something in the populist zeitgeist that you see hints of on social media, but the mainstream media is mostly missing.
“He puts the audience through reliving the night of the election…”
Subject-wise, the film is all over the place, and at the moment it seems only barely woven together by the weakest of threads. He covers the election of Trump, the water crisis in Flint, various sins against Bernie Sanders, the rise of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, teachers strikes, the Parkland shooting, and Nazis. It isn’t what you think – both Clintons, Obama, Pelosi, and the New York Times all come under attack nearly as much as Republicans do. And as if to anticipate criticism from everyone else, Moore even castigates some of his own coziness with the Trumps. Trump is attacked, for sure, but this isn’t the anti-Trump jeremiad that everyone was expecting.
At first, it seems that Moore has lost his mind. He puts the audience through reliving the night of the election, and through an excruciating set of clips illustrating just how wrong nearly everyone was (with more than a little humblebragging about how he was one of the lone people saying Trump may well win). Then he flits from subject to subject with segues so weak they make your head spin. The one constant is that in every case he’s tapping into raw emotion about injustice. The incessant drumbeat of people being mad as hell builds and builds to a crescendo. It is only near the end that you realize that what everything has in common is regular folks getting screwed by corruption in politics.
Moore has a gift for showmanship, though some of his stunts can fall flat. Not everything works here — spraying “Flint water” at the Michigan governor’s mansion seems unnecessarily shallow after taking us through the grief of people dying and kids being poisoned. But going through every detail of the Flint water crisis, presenting new details from the cover-up, and letting the people there tell their story is right in his wheelhouse. Giving the Parkland kids room to tell their story in their own words is brilliant too. Maybe the biggest gamble, and payoff, is an absurdist tragicomic bit where he sets Trump speeches to actual Nazi footage. That could come across as silly, but he has a historian and the last remaining Nazi prosecutor to provide context.
“Giving the Parkland kids room to tell their story in their own words is brilliant…”
In the end, the brilliance of the film comes in the climax, where Moore points out that the Constitution won’t save us, the special prosecutor won’t save us, getting rid of Trump won’t save us. Trump is a symptom, not the core problem. Our democracy is barely a functioning democracy. Money rules. Many are disenfranchised. It isn’t even close to one person one vote.
Only concerted action by people taking their democracy back will do a damn thing. Fahrenheit 11/9 is a call to action and a powerful one at that. It really brings something to the table that we’ve been missing, and something that most of the mainstream media is not well equipped to deliver, but Michael Moore is — emotion about injustice.
Fahrenheit 11/9 (2018) Written and directed by Michael Moore. Starring Michael Moore. Fahrenheit 11/9 screened at the Toronto International Film Festival.
10 out of 10