The rest of the world has always scratched its collective head at America's obsession with gun control, or rather the lack of it. In a country where ownership of a gun is protected by the national constitution, it's unsurprising that groups like the National Rifle Association are powerful lobbyists. Now, at a time where gun crime is on the rise in the UK, along comes Michael Moore with a film that is the very definition of thought provoking.
Moore is that rare beast, a left wing American. Those familiar with his books or television programmes will know that he does not hector or patronise people, but sets out his arguments in such an engaging way that's it impossible not to be entertained, even if you don't necessarily agree with his viewpoint.
Moore sets out in Bowling For Columbine to discover why the US has such a high rate of gun crime. He interviews various people including Marilyn Manson, demonised after the Columbine massacre, and screen legend Charlton Heston, now better known as a mouthpiece for the NRA. Basing the documentary around the massacre in Columbine High School, it's to his credit that he comes up with no easy solutions and indeed by the end of the film he seems as baffled as the rest of us.
Throughout the film, the viewer doesn't know whether to laugh or just be very, very scared. One of Moore's subjects is James Nicholls, who was acquitted of the Olkahoma bombing. In one of the most memorable sequences Moore asks him if an American citizen should be entitled to own nuclear weapons if they wish. "Hell no...there's a lot of crazy people out there" he giggles and you only have to look at the face on the screen to agree with him.
Moore punctuates his interviews with some entertaining set pieces, including a cartoon entitled "A Brief History Of America" and a montage where America's dubious foreign policy, including Vietnam, selling arms to Iraq and the CIA training of Osama Bin Laden, culminating in the scenes of the Twin Towers exploding. It's not hard to see who Moore blames for Bin Laden's terrorism.
Some people have accused Moore of being overtly manipulative in parts of Bowling For Columbine - indeed the final confrontation with Heston makes uncomfortable viewing, given that it was recently announced that the actor is suffering from Alzeimer's Disease.
Nonetheless, Bowling For Columbine is proof that films can change the world for the better. In the standout scene, Moore takes two survivors of the Columbine massacre to a K-Mart store. As the bullets are lodged in their body, Moore returns them to the store where they were bought. After much discussion, it's decided that K-Mart will stop stocking bullets and other gun paraphernalia. It's moments like this that make Michael Moore one of America's most vital social commentators, and why Bowling For Columbine is essential viewing.