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By Pete Vonder Haar | October 26, 2004

Let’s get one thing straight, no documentary is objective. I don’t care if your old copy of Merriam-Webster’s says otherwise, show me a documentary – any documentary – and I’ll show you a filmmaker with a specific agenda they’re trying to support. Sometimes the subject matter is relatively benign (as in “Hoop Dreams”), sometimes less so (“Shoah”), but all of these movies are the result of the filmmaker’s choices in what to include and what to cull from their footage.

Sorry about that, but if you approach “Fahrenheit 9/11” with the attitude, “But it’s not objective,” there’s not much point in continuing.

Michael Moore is one of the most polarizing filmmakers of our time, and his films have received much more scrutiny than others of their ilk. Factual errors subsequently uncovered in “Roger and Me” and “Bowling for Columbine,” as well as in his books, have damaged his reputation and opened the door to widespread criticism of his techniques and accusations that he plays fast and loose with the facts to support his arguments. Some of these claims have merit (his continued incorrect assertions that the Bush Administration gave aid to the Taliban in 2000 and 2001), while others don’t – and if one wishes to criticize Moore for ambushing an old man suffering from senile dementia to debate the merits of gun control, well, maybe the NRA should have selected a spokesman actually capable of defending its position. With “Fahrenheit 9/11,” Moore still slips into hyperbole on occasion, but he makes his points forcefully and with less bluster than in previous efforts.

“Fahrenheit 9/11” is a wide-ranging attack on, among other things, the way the Bush Administration has run the country these last three and a half years, the Florida recount, the Bush family’s ties to the bin Laden family and the Saudis, and the Administration’s management of the war against Iraq. Along the way, Moore takes swipes at Congress, the Senate, and the media. More than any of this, however, “Fahrenheit 9/11” is an all-out assault on George W. Bush, and Moore pulls no punches. Where earlier Moore films showcased a fair amount humor, even when covering weighty topics, “Fahrenheit” – especially the latter half – gives us Moore at his most serious.

Oh, he still goes for the easy laugh. The gratuitous “feed” footage of Bush and company as they get primped and made up for the cameras, while humorous, would be just as accurate for any politician, be they Republican or Democrat. And the point of including John Ashcroft crooning a love ballad to America (of his own writing, we’re told) eludes me, except perhaps to demonstrate our Attorney General’s horrible command of lyrics. These are cheap shots, and one of the reasons Moore’s credibility suffers (though I don’t think I’ll ever be able to cleanse my brain of the image of Paul Wolfowitz licking his comb).

The film does better when Moore adheres to matters of public record, like the bin Laden family’s support of Arbusto Energy, the close ties between the Bush family and the Saudis, and actual statements by the President and his Cabinet. The comedic set-ups so prevalent in his earlier films are largely absent here, and the movie makes its most powerful statements when Moore removes himself from the picture altogether and lets the footage – whether of American soldiers humiliating prisoners or a mother grieving for a son killed in Karbala – speak for itself.

What you won’t find much of in “Fahrenheit 9/11,” however, is selective editing or manipulation of President Bush’s words themselves. Moore does succumb to the occasional gimmick, but like it or not, the President has a serious credibility problem when it comes to public speaking. You can highlight Moore’s unsupported allegations concerning exactly how much money the Bush family and their friends and business partners have received from the Saudis ($1.4 billion, according to the film), or take him to task for his blue sky pictures of women and babies in Baghdad before the bombing started, but you can’t deny many of his points: that Bush opposed both a Congressional and an independent 9/11 panel, that the mainstream media played cheerleader to the Administration’s Iraq War policies, and that Bush cut combat pay and veteran’s benefits even while publicly lauding the troops.

“Fahrenheit 9/11” is an undeniably powerful, if flawed, film. As a polemic, it’s hard to beat. As a historical document that shows audiences things about the war and the Administration they may not have previously seen, it’s indispensable. It’s also not going to change anyone’s minds. If you already hate Moore, watching 2 hours of concentrated footage of Bush mangling the English language with a smirk on his face isn’t going to alter your views. Moore is preaching to the converted. Even so, he is as focused as he’s ever been on the task at hand. Some scenes, such as those showing Iraqis dragging the burned bodies of Americans behind a car, are extremely disturbing, and that’s probably Moore’s point. Perhaps if we’d been reminded earlier on how horrible war really is, we wouldn’t have been so gung ho to put our fighting men and women in harm’s way.
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