‘Fahrenheit 9/11’ turns up heat on Bush
Michael Moore is the most dangerous man in America ... at least he is
to the sitting president.
And sitting is a fitting description of how the filmmaker views George W. Bush.
In "Fahrenheit 9/11," Moore portrays the leader as a lazy, incompetent, indecisive fool with a history of having his father and friends bail him out. More disturbing, Moore paints a picture of the president as being more vested in Saudi Arabian interests than those of the American people.
These charges are hardly new. But Moore backs up his argument with
his most powerful, cohesive and persuasive piece yet.
The bloated, ball cap wearing gadfly has made a career taking on big
business ("Roger and Me") and conservative values ("Bowling for
Columbine"). In his latest effort he simultaneously assaults both
targets with a movie that crucifies the Bush administration.
Moore begins the film with a flashback to the 2000 election. Though
his claims that the Republicans stole the election are old news, what
is fresh is footage of the ratification of Bush's election by Congress. As a rule of law, an election can be contested if one senator and one representative request it. A cluster of representatives, all minorities, challenge the results but not one senator comes to their aid.
Instead they are silenced by the chairman of the joint congressional
session: Al Gore.
It's here that a key factor to the picture's success is revealed. Moore depicts the Democrats no more favorably than the Republicans. He renders the party as cowardly and ignorant, blindly following the
president as he capitalizes on the nation's patriotic fervor.
When Sept. 11 finally hits, Moore avoids showing any of the stock
plane-hitting-building images, instead allowing the screen to fade to
black. The viewer only experiences the macabre sounds of the destruction.
Among the most damaging pieces of evidence is in the president's
immediate reaction to the event - or lack thereof. Remember, he was
reading "My Pet Goat" to Florida elementary school students when
apprised of the situation. A teacher in the classroom was videotaping
the entire episode.
Moore puts a timer on the scene as seven minutes drift by with the
president looking dazed and confused, seemingly unable to function
without an adviser to hold his hand.
The filmmaker further punctuates his points through a barrage of
well-timed pop songs. When he exposes that Bush spent more than half of his first six months in office on holiday, The Go-Go's "Vacation"
is heard. More devious is the riff from Eric Clapton's "Cocaine" that
pokes onto the soundtrack during moments flashing back to Bush's
dealings in the 1970s.
To emphasize his contention that the "War on Terror" is merely a smokescreen for Bush's fundamental goal of finding an excuse to invade Iraq, Moore resorts to the same bait-and-ambush style of
journalism that makes his work so entertaining, and manipulative.
After Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., admits that no member of Congress
had read the Patriot Act before voting for it, Moore hires a Mister Softee truck to drive around the front of the Capitol while he reads senators the entire document over the loudspeaker.
Then, learning that only one congressman has a son currently serving
active duty in the military, he tries to recruit the politicians to get their offspring to enlist. None accept.
The impact of Moore's previous documentaries has been tainted by
jumbled timelines and huge leaps in logic. (For instance, his anti-gun epic, "Bowling for Columbine," tried to imply that Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris shot up their classmates because Lockheed Martin is based in Littleton, Co.) Often these journalistic lapses appeared to be so the director could make a better joke than a better
"Fahrenheit 9/11" is arguably the least humorous of Moore's catalog,
yet it's hands down his most dramatically resonant. This is often a
painful movie to watch, both graphically (civilian casualties in Iraq) and emotionally (during heart-wrenching testimony from the parents of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq).
But perhaps the main reason the film works so effectively is that Moore himself is on-screen so infrequently. His nasal narration ranges throughout the piece, but he is content to let other people make his case.
If "Fahrenheit 9/11" proves nothing else, it's that less Moore is more.