"Fahrenheit 9/11," the latest opus from guerilla filmmaker Michael Moore, is indeed what it has been cracked up to be: a full-on body slam of George W. Bush.
Marine recruiters canvass a mall in Flint, Mich., from "Fahrenheit 9/11." (Lion's Gate)
That fact noted, it's still worth determining what value the film may possess (though raking Bush over the coals is value enough for some people).
The thrust of the film is by now well-documented: Moore posits that President Bush was essentially AWOL from the White House prior to Sept. 11 and buddy-buddy with Saudis—his business compatriots—afterwards.
Viewers and voters this November essentially have three responses to that argument: They buy it, they don't, or they think the truth exists somewhere in between.
"Fahrenheit 9/11" is a film for galvanizing the first two. Those who think the Bush administration isn't the black in Moore's version or the white in its implied opposite will have to do much of the work of critical construction themselves.
Moore thinks he's justified to present only one side of the story, believing that the target of his derision has done the same thing (with the help of mainstream media). This approach makes for an interesting story, but the drama is actually less compelling because Moore has stripped it of nuance.
While the storyline may seem extraordinary to some, it's far less extraordinary than it could have been had Moore been more even-handed. Moore suggests that Bush is just another suit in a good-old-boy network that's broad enough to include Saudi oilmen.
Missing from this portrait is an examination of Bush's faith and his stated perceptions of morality. Is it more compelling to think Bush is just making decisions with a financial ledger, or that he's making decisions with a financial ledger and a Bible?
The point here is that Moore's Bush doesn't care about doing what's right; Moore's Bush is ruthless. A more balanced approach would have yielded an even more disturbing project: that Bush does care about doing what's right and—depending on your point of view—still falls prey to the system Moore is so eager to condemn.
Moore spends much of the film's 122-minute running time attacking Bush the man. Allegations include too much vacation time, fumbling lines, and sitting too long with Florida schoolchildren on Sept. 11 after he was notified that the country was under attack.
Yet, "Fahrenheit 9/11" builds to the conclusion that an economic system is in place, and that Bush essentially committed the immoral act of sending otherwise good kids to fight a war based on a lie—to defend that system. Moore overlooks the possibility that Bush, too, is a pawn.
Moore also suggests that, on the one hand, Bush is a dummy and, on the other hand, this dummy orchestrated a war based on a lie. Can Moore and his supporters have it both ways? Besides, the only thing more disturbing than that is that Americans bought a purported lie—again, from a purported dummy.
Truly, what should disturb viewers more is not a single filmmaker's version of events and his unchecked hammering of the president, but the footage of an Iraqi woman whose neighborhood has just been blown to smithereens, her relatives killed.
"God, where are you?" she cries out through her tears. "Where are you, God? Avenge us, oh God!" Her story is not political. It is human—and reminiscent of David's pleas in the Psalms.
The film offers some worthy moments: archival footage of the chaos that was the 2000 election; U.S. soldiers struggling to do their jobs; even peace activists in Fresno, Calif., whose group was infiltrated by local law enforcement because it allegedly posed a threat to national security.
Moore's skill as a filmmaker is evident in the way he constructs some of the sequences—most notably, the opening credits that are spliced with footage of administration honchos getting their make-up done before appearing on camera.
In the end, however, "Fahrenheit 9/11" is nothing more and nothing less than Michael Moore's interpretation of recent events. For a man who seems to appreciate shades of gray, this film is unabashedly and unfortunately black and white.
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.
MPAA Rating: R for some violent and disturbing images, and for language. Reviewer's Note: The film contains scenes of a public beheading (seen from a distance), maimed Iraqi children and wounded U.S. soldiers.
Director: Michael Moore
Writer: Michael Moore
The movie's official Web site is here.