In the first 30 minutes of "Fahrenheit 9/11," Michael Moore blows his golden opportunity to make a real difference in America with his bombshell film exposing rampant Bush Administration corruption. He opens with a blitz of such cheeky sarcasm that he may well alienate and discredit himself with the very undecided and right-leaning voters he means to convert.
The theater curtain has barely opened before he's on a tear about the 2000 election being stolen -- a charge well documented elsewhere, but Moore offers only implication (Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, in charge of vote counting, was also Bush's campaign manager in the state) without substantiation. Where are the easily available numbers that so clearly support his claim? If he can't back up the first thing he says in the movie, many skeptics will wonder, why should we believe him about anything else?
The sad thing is, we should believe. The last hour of "Fahrenheit 9/11" is so powerful, so devastating, that anyone whose mind isn't closed by the first two reels of cheap shots at Bush's character will likely leave the theater shaking with anger at the duplicity exposed, the cover-ups unmasked, the wholesale manipulation (in back rooms) and fear-mongering (on the airwaves) in the build-up to the war in Iraq, and the lies, the lies, the lies. All of this Moore documents with the kind of veracity the film needed most in the early going to hook viewers not already on his side.
As with all Moore's proudly muckraking documentaries, the facts in "9/11" are often stage-managed. But that doesn't dilute the impact of such shocking sights as found footage of Bush practicing gestures and clowning for the camera only seconds before he goes on the air March 20, 2003, to solemnly announce the attack on Iraq is underway. And it cannot diminish such incredible revelations as what exactly was blacked out of Bush's National Guard service record.
Moore unveils an uncensored copy of that record which reveals that a buddy busted with him for bad attendance is the same man who went on to manage money interests in Texas for the family of Osama bin Laden -- including investments in several failed oil enterprises run by George W. Bush. Could that be why his name was blacked out when Bush finally released this document in 2004? Bush could have just been protecting a friend from the media storm (a possibility Moore doesn't acknowledge), but the places this paper trail leads are flabbergasting.
There's so much important information here that has been grossly underreported in the American press that is makes one question the state of journalism (especially at Fox News, which often parrots White House press releases word for word and calls it reporting, and which gets a well-deserved lambasting here).
Moore details both the infamous August 6, 2001, security briefing, in which Bush was warned about al Qaeda hijacking plans, and the fact that the president arranged for dozens of bin Laden family members (and other Saudis) to be flown out of the country after Sept. 11 -- without being questioned by the FBI or any investigators -- while every other flight in America was grounded.
How would the public have reacted if the same kind of escape had been provided for Timothy McVeigh's family, the filmmaker rightly wonders.
"Fahrenheit 9/11" features footage of Taliban officials visiting the U.S. State Department in March of 2001 -- on the friendly invitation of the Bush government -- and footage from inside a defense industry convention at which speakers brag about all the money to be made from the Iraqi war.
The director juxtaposes the pay of a solider in Iraq ($2,000 to $3,000 a month) with the salary of a Halliburton bus driver in Iraq ($8,000 to $10,000 a month). Even more powerful, he has something we rarely see on our TVs: gut-twisting footage of U.S. soldiers killed and maimed in Iraq (and hating Bush for it). He couples this with something we never see -- gut-twisting footage of Iraqi civilians killed and maimed by U.S. soldiers (and cursing our nation for it).
But most damning is the footage in which Moore just gives Bush, his administration officials and other politicians the rope and watches them hang themselves with manipulative quotes that have since proven to be outright falsehoods.
This review barely scratches the surface of the volumes of information uncovered in "Fahrenheit 9/11," shrewdly packaged for maximum effect, and sometimes tinged with sardonic touches of Michael Moore's wicked wit. It's just a shame he felt the need to come out of the gate riding on the back of snide schoolyard taunts.
The beginning of this film is as ignoble as Moore's false-pretenses sneak-attack on doddering NRA president Charlton Heston in 2002's otherwise important and spot-on "Bowling for Columbine." If enough people can get past that fact, the balance might just help change the world.