During his acceptance speech at the 2002 Oscars, Michael Moore thrust himself into the political fray when he denounced the Bush administration and the war in Iraq. Some found his comments inappropriate, others found them ballsy and brash, just the sort of thing the rotund raconteur would do. Regardless of what you thought of the stunt, that night it became clear that the man who targeted General Motors in Roger & Me and the NRA in Bowling for Columbine would expose a bigger target: the President of the United States.
Moore claims his film is not really about politics. And yet, even before Fahrenheit 9/11 is released, there is already more than enough controversy to go around. Moore's film walked away with the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival, but Disney backed out of the deal to release it. While Fahrenheit eventually landed with Lions Gate, this early firestorm is just the kind of publicity Moore relishes.
People's opinions of Fahrenheit will depend on their political affiliation - the left wing will revel in it; the right will denounce every inch of it. While our emotions can speak volumes about this film, we're going to try our best to stay in the middle on this one and let the movie speak for itself.
Fahrenheit 9/11 brings up many fascinating and inflammatory ideas about George W. Bush, his family, and the way he handled events leading up to and after 9/11. Throughout the film, Moore provides his insights based on interviews, official documents, and news reports. In his first nine months in office, Bush spent 42 percent of his time on vacation and suffered from declining approval ratings. After learning that the planes went into the World Trade Center, Bush sat reading with Florida school children for seven minutes before taking any action.
Why? Moore uncovers that the same people who invested billions of dollars in Bush's family and friends' oil and defense holdings were now attacking the United States. Post-9/11, Bush pushed for the Patriot Act, meant to snuff out any terrorists in the country. Moore asserts that Congress never even read the act before passing it, thus causing many innocent people to become government targets. In one of many great scenes in this film, Moore commandeers an ice cream truck so he can read the Patriot Act aloud outside the Capital building.
Though Fahrenheit's first half is a powerful indictment, Moore's attacks on the Bush Administration start to lose their muscle and credibility during the latter half of the movie. His assault shifts to the actions of the troops overseas, the unemployment rate in Flint, Michigan (wasn't this already covered extensively in Roger?), and one family's grief over the death of their son in Iraq. Moore stretches this material as thin as he can to relate it back to his original thesis, and Fahrenheit becomes disjointed. Some will probably claim that these events are the tragic results of Bush's incorrect handling of the war in Iraq. Others will fail to see the connection.
Moore freely admits Fahrenheit is one-sided, and that's his choice. Yet it's hard to pin the blame on Bush for everything that happened in the years that have followed. Like Dan Quayle, Bush is simply an easy target, and Moore's penchant for stretching the truth and selectively editing stories to meet his agenda. And while hindsight is 20/20, the fact remains that nothing in the past can be changed. Moore's objective is to build enough support to prevent Bush from being re-elected. Fair enough, but he should prepare for an even bigger backlash than he got for Columbine.
Putting the politics aside, Moore's film is well crafted with intensely serious scenes, and moments of absolute hilarity. In a touching segment on the 9/11 tragedy, Moore creates a breathtaking montage where sirens, screams, and panic from that infamous day are played over a blank movie screen. Later, Moore edits a new and comical introduction to the television show Bonanza with members of the Bush cabinet ready to "snuff-out" al Qaeda. And in one of film's most telling scenes, Moore confronts members of Congress regarding the enlistment of their children in the military.
Its politics notwithstanding, the art of Fahrenheit 9/11 is extraordinary.
Fahrenheit's highly anticipated DVD adds about an hour of additional footage, much of which comprises extended scenes judiciously edited for space in the feature film (how much Condoleeza Rice testimony do you really want?). Some excised material -- like a companion bit to the Oregon vignette about Miami homeland security and scenes from outside Abu Ghraib -- is also available on disc. New material includes film shot during 9/11's release at Cannes and in the U.S. and an odd piece about the impact 9/11 had on Arab-American comedians working in the U.S.
Now who wants to get a sandwich?