NOW PLAYING: Fahrenheit 9/11

Posted: Tuesday, July 06, 2004

I know what you're thinking. A. "Why is he reviewing a movie that has about as much chance of playing on the Kenai as Rush Limbaugh does of getting elected head of the Democratic Convention?" and B. "Isn't every movie lovin', summer blockbuster-o-phile film critic worth their salt reviewing Spider-Man 2 right about now?" Ok, granted, this movie probably won't play down here, but I have a feeling a lot of you will see it anyway. And, as much as I wish I could, I can't review Spider-Man because I'm winging my way to Japan right now on vacation. Of course, I realize that my review isn't going to change the box office for that movie one iota; you'll see it whether I say so or not. Not that Michael Moore needs much help on his endeavor, either. Fahrenheit 9/11 just hit number one at the box office, smashing all previous records for documentaries. He's got a lot to say, and people in this country are definitely listening.

If you don't realize it by now, Michael Moore hates George Bush. He gives us not-so-subtle hints of this feeling in his two best-sellers, Stupid White Men and Dude, Where's My Country, and pretty much puts the nail in the coffin with this latest effort. Moore is best known as a rabble-rousing, muckraking documentarian who made his name with films Roger and Me, an expose on the destructive practices of big business, and in Bowling for Columbine, a blistering Best Documentary Oscar winner that attacks the NRA and the gun lobby . Fahrenheit is the culmination of a career of liberal chest-beating, and even a supposedly unbiased observer would have to admit it is eye-opening to say the least.

Personal politics will certainly, unavoidably, play a role in your reaction to this film, an amalgam of clips and accusations that basically accuse the president of manipulating public horror over September 11 in order to wage a financially beneficial war in Iraq. For my part, I am not a George Bush fan. Being a teacher, the unrealistic and very nearly unbudgeted mandate of "No Child Left Behind" is a nearly unforgivable sin. However, being originally from Texas, it seems almost sacreligious to criticize our beleaguered leader. I, like most of the rest of the nation, was fired up after 9/11, even going so far as to remark to my friends that it was our responsibility to stand behind the president in his decision to go to war with Iraq. And I, like others, a good many of whom were in the theater last week with me, have begun to feel increasingly disillusioned by our participation in a conflict that may or may not be justified. A good friend of mine likes to remark that we in this country have the attention spans of a six-year old; that we clamor for war and then forget about it less than a year later. He may be right. However, Michael Moore would suggest that the American people are not so much forgetting, as waking up from a calculated fugue state of paranoia and fear, deliberately applied by George Bush and his cronies.

I'll say up front that I don't pretend to know how much of what Moore claims is true, but enough of what he says is part of openly accessible records to make his statements impossible to ignore. Documents, interviews, speeches, and damning footage all lead to the same conclusion - Bush and his family have made a mission out of increasing personal holdings and the holdings of their friends at the expense of our nation's youth and it's credibility. Moore's genius lies in making connections that others might not, and in doing so, laying bare such obvious corruption that one wonders how this man ever got into office. Moore's problem, however, lies in his scathing sense of humor which, though entertaining, often belittles without evidence. It's as though he gets caught up in his own propaganda and wants to play the part of the angry crowd as well as that of the informative speaker. On the other hand, as my wife says, Michael Moore's movies are not meant to inform, but to incense - to drive people to action. And that he does. The success of this film could very well have an effect on the election in November.

Fahrenheit 9/11's implications are catastrophic. They suggest that we invaded an innocent country for no other reason than to get our hands on the second largest oil fields in the world. Whether or not this is true remains to be seen, but despite the veracity of the film's central theme, Moore's most effective moments occur when he gives us a disturbingly honest picture of war in our modern age. Images of troops that are not sanitized by blind patriotism show not heroic Americans doing their duty, but young men and women, kids, stuck in a place where they aren't wanted, doing a job they don't understand, and reacting in a variety of ways, from frighteningly sadistic to sadly resigned. These and their fallen brothers and sisters are the real casualties in this conflict, real or invented. Grade A-

Fahrenheit 9/11 is rated R for disturbing war imagery and language.

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