He’s taken on the Motor Industry, Big Business and the NRA in his previous films Roger And Me, The Big One and Bowling For Columbine. When he accepted the Best Documentary Oscar at the 2003 Academy Awards for Columbine, just days after America invaded Iraq, he slammed President Bush for conducting a “fictional war”.
Now, as an effort to back up his Oscar night comments, controversial filmmaker Michael Moore has made Fahrenheit 9/11, an all-out attack on Bush and his administration for their handling of both the “war on terrorism” and the war in Iraq.
Following the events of September 11, 2001, 26 members of terrorist Osama Bin Laden’s family were given safe access, via airplanes, out of the United States courtesy of the Bush administration. Moore looks at how – and why – Bush and his inner circle avoided pursuing the Saudi Arabian connection to 9/11, despite the fact that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis and Saudi money had funded Al Qaeda (short answer: business ties between the Bush and Bin Laden families).
Moore also shows us a nation kept in constant fear by FBI alerts, fuelled by the American media, that didn’t really amount to anything and a country lulled into accepting the Patriot Act, a piece of legislation (allegedly read by few who serve in Congress) that infringes on basic civil rights.
It is in this atmosphere of confusion, suspicion and dread that the Bush Administration makes its headlong rush towards war in Iraq – and Fahrenheit 9/11 takes the viewer inside that war to tell the stories we haven’t heard, illustrating the awful human cost to US soldiers and their families.
Moore makes his agenda quite clear right from the start: he wants Bush and his administration voted out of office this November. Through a multitude of archival clips, interviews and news articles, Moore presents the President as an arrogant, unapologetic, elitist leader asleep at the wheel from day one, who may have ignored the warnings about a domestic terrorist attack that would claim 3000 lives in one day, and in charge of an administration that lied to the world in order to invade another country that, despite being under the rule of a sadistic jerk, posed no immediate threat to America.
The biggest question that has been raised by everyone is this: is Fahrenheit 9/11 a fair and balanced assessment of the Bush administration and its policies of the last four years? Depending on your political beliefs, the answer to that could be either yes or no. Since I am neither a devout Democrat nor Republican, for me there is a bit of both.
Moore does shape a lot of the material to fit his point of view, with a few scenes here feeling manipulated and staged to suit his agenda. I, for one, could have done without such things as Moore’s cheap, sarcastic voiceovers when he shows the footage of a clearly shaken President Bush in a Florida classroom upon learning of the World Trade Center attacks, the images of Baghdad as a benign Shangri-la the day before the start of the Iraq war (get real, Mike) and while very amusing, Moore’s driving around Washington DC in an ice cream truck reading the Patriot Act to Congress, an act that smacks more of showboating than anything else.
More often than not though, Moore restrains himself, stays behind the camera and lets the footage speak for itself. A good chunk of the material used in Fahrenheit 9/11, a title that implies “the degree where freedom burns”, wasn’t shot by Moore. It was simply acquired and edited into the film, which does give Moore’s arguments about the Bush administration an added amount of strength.
The most effective footage to be found in the movie is what comprises the second half, which revolves around the war in Iraq. As if the graphic footage of the war’s many casualties – both Iraqi and American – and interviews with American troops who don’t wish to be there isn’t heartbreaking enough, Moore also includes an interview with a Flint, Michigan mother whose son was killed in Iraq. Interviewing her before and after her son’s death, the scenes of the distraught woman reading the last letter her son ever wrote to her and her subsequent trip to the White House to try to meet with those responsible are almost unbearable to watch.
Webster’s Online Dictionary defines the word “documentary” as a film or television program presenting the facts of a person or event. Does Fahrenheit 9/11 fit that description? I believe that it does. Is it propaganda? Isn’t any documentary that takes on a hot topic issue? Is it perfect? Not by a long shot, but then again what film is? Most importantly, because this is, after all, just a movie, is Fahrenheit 9/11 a well-made and entertaining movie? You better believe it.
You may not like Michael Moore (trust me when I say, this film will do nothing to change that) and you may question the way he presents his facts and what he claims to be “the truth”, but you can not deny that his work is important and it does make an impact, for better or worse. If you are willing to give it a chance, Fahrenheit 9/11 will entertain you, make you think, make you debate with others and, if you live in America, hopefully make you want to exercise your right to vote come November 2004, be it for or against George W. Bush (something has to motivate people to vote).
If the film can get people out of their houses and into the voting booths later this year, then Michael Moore can then consider Fahrenheit 9/11 a success.