A dodgy George W. Bush once told Michael Moore to “go find real work,” a moment originally immortalized in an episode from the filmmaker’s The Awful Truth television series. In another episode, Moore interviewed a man whose spotless high school record and extracurricular achievements weren’t enough to get him into Yale over an underachieving Bush Jr., the same man who’s on record as opposing affirmative action. It’s amazing what an oil well can do, which may as well be the theme of Moore’s latest polemic. The filmmaker has forever traded in bitter ironies, and his Fahrenheit 9/11 arrives in theaters June 25th—Michael Eisner and his bottom-line be damned—thanks to IFC, Lions Gate, and the unfortunately titled Fellowship Adventure Group, ready and willing to deal our incumbent president a lethal pre-election blow.
A mediocre director but a master PR man, Moore is the father of the Happy Meal documentary: big fonts, quick-fire montages, celebrity cameos, causing elaborate scenes. (The reasonable logic here: Whatever gets the MTV generation into theaters.) Fahrenheit 9/11 is no less an attention-grabbing stunt than his Bowling for Columbine, but what a scene it is. For almost four years now the White House has bamboozled the American public with one lie after another. Now Moore sets out to compile these mistruths into one massive montage clip, breathlessly hoping to show us exactly what the White House doesn’t want us to see (or, more accurately, un-wipe what Bush’s cronies have blacked out from official documents)—not only does the filmmaker impressively map out the links between the Bush and bin Laden families (clearly the White House believes in guilt by association), but he also exposes the current administration’s shoddy justification for their invasion of Iraq.
Because many of us can only imagine where we’d be today had black voters in Florida not been disenfranchised, it’s only natural that the film begins with a dreamy what-if scenario celebrating Al Gore’s presidential victory. Equally ethereal is Moore’s evocation of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Moore understands that the memory of the Twin Towers falling to the ground is every bit as horrifying as actual archival footage from that day, borrowing a page (and, later, a composer) from Errol Morris’s Koyaanisqatsi-like The Fog of War by summoning the fallen towers with the strains of Arvo Pärt atop nothing more than a black screen, ostensibly a symbol for the abyss the country spiraled into when Bush Jr. hee-hawed his way into office. For those ignorant to the extent of Bush and Dick Cheney’s oil interests abroad, consider Fahrenheit 9/11 a wake-up call.
Fahrenheit 9/11 should not be construed as an attack against Republicans per se—Moore does reserve some bitter judgment for Tom Daschle and other Democrats who supported the Iraqi war, but it bears mentioning that he never points out that one of the Florida senators who failed to sign off on documents detailing voter disenfranchisement in the state didn’t belong to the same party as Jeb Bush. (So, even if the facts are kosher, the delivery is kind of screwy.) Still, what Moore is really concerned with here is the distance between a George Bush oil well and the unemployment line in Flint, Michigan. Regardless of the party line, a rich fat cat is still a rich fat cat, and it’s amazing what men with money will do, who they’ll associate with, step over, and pander to, if it means they’ll wake up the next morning a million dollars richer. That poor kids are essentially protecting our aristocratic nation’s interests abroad when they join the military—lured by the promise of educations they can’t afford—is an irony that isn’t lost on Mr. Moore.
There’s no excuse for Moore’s frequent self-aggrandizement and forced sanctimoniousness (he rah-rahs from the sidelines when an interviewee says something he agrees with, and you sometimes get a sense that he wouldn’t call a dying man an ambulance if it meant getting the money shot of the guy croaking), but the good news here is that the filmmaker spends very little time on screen. The elitist Dubya may be the worst thing to ever happen to democracy in this country, but Moore’s contempt for the man sometimes borders on the obscene. One could say that a condescending Moore descends to the President’s level when he scrutinizes the moment when Bush Jr. heard about the 9/11 terrorists attacks inside a Florida classroom. Like any one-sided harangue, Fahrenheit 9/11 tends to ramble on, and if it feels like a work in progress, that’s only natural—by film’s end, you get a sense that it’ll never be finished until George W. Bush is too.