Fahrenheit 9/11

2004, Movie, R, 116 mins

Review

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Unfocused, bombastic and provocative in every sense of the word, Michael Moore's scattershot attack on George W. Bush's presidency, which won the Palme d'Or at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival, opened in an atmosphere of bitter controversy prompted by its much-publicized distribution problems, the threat of a lawsuit by Fahrenheit 451 author Ray Bradbury, wrangles over the rating and threats of boycotts. Like all of Moore's films, it's infuriating and challenging in equal parts, a bombshell of bitter insights that are obscured by clouds of disingenuous bluster and tomfoolery; every sharply articulated point is offset by a buffoonish stunt, each razor-sharp observation about the interplay of American policy and the interests of the moneyed elite counterbalanced by a mawkishly heart-tugging tale of poor working folks getting shafted. Moore starts by rehashing the Florida balloting irregularities that skewed the 2000 presidential election, laying equal blame on Republicans for cooking the vote and Democrats for taking it. He characterizes the first eight months of Bush's presidency as an extended vacation, interrupted only when the Al-Qeada terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, demanded serious leadership — or at least the appearance thereof. Florida news footage of the slack-jawed chief executive lingering at a grammar-school photo op for seven solid minutes after being told America was "under attack" reveals an absence so profound it hurts to look. Moore is at his best when he's following the money, establishing a web of connections between the Bush family and their oil-business friends and associates, notably Saudi investors who include members of the Bin Laden family. Why, Moore asks, did America roll its war on Al-Qaeda through Iraq when everything suggested that Saudi Arabia was the problem? Moore's evidence is circumstantial and wouldn't hold up in court, but the allegation that in order of importance President Bush ranked the well-being of American citizens below his lucrative oil interests is explosive. True to his juvenile sense of authority-baiting, Moore then lobs cinematic spitballs at targets ranging from the trivial to the profoundly important. He sniggers at the absurdities of homeland-security measures and John Ashcroft's underwhelming pre-Attorney General career; chides American news outlets for their shallow, party-line coverage from Iraq; ridicules callow U.S. soldiers who confide that war is "a lot more gruesome" than they expected; and mocks the cynical efforts of military recruiters to convince poor young men and women from Moore's depressed hometown, Flint, Mich., that the military is an exciting career option, not a port of last resort for the underemployed and economically disenfranchised. Moore's desperate need for attention is irritating, but it's also his strength as a gadfly; it drives him to needle sacred cows and received wisdom that would otherwise go unchallenged. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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