The temperature where freedom burns!
Running Time: 122 minutes
US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 15
Country: United States
After 'Bowling for Columbine' (2002) won the Academy Award and became the highest grossing narrative documentary of all time, Michael Moore decided to direct his brand of activist journalism at targets no less prominent than the current president and ruling administration of the United States of America, and the result is 'Farenheit 9/11', a blistering onslaught on Dubya's record to date in America's highest office. Struggling to find a US distributor for so blatantly political a film in the lead-up to an election, Moore took 'Farenheit 9/11' to Cannes, where he promptly won the Palme d'Or, the smell of profit in the air guaranteeing him the US release he so wanted.
This is significant, for outside of America, George Bush is probably the least admired President that the US has ever had, so that, before a European audience, Moore is largely preaching to the converted. It is in America, however, where people actually have the power to remove Bush from office, that the impact of this film could really count, and in this case the votes of the general electorate may well prove to be a better reflection of the film's success (or failure) than the votes of Canne's panel or even of the Academy. The message of this film, made loud and clear, is do not support the Republican party for a second term – although arguably Moore's reluctance to endorse the only viable alternative, the Democrats (who at times are lampooned in the film), may serve to blunt somewhat the political aims behind his propaganda. After all, in the last election, Moore backed Ralph Nader, whose only achievement was to swallow up votes that would otherwise have gone to Bush's principal opponent, Al Gore.
As a filmmaker, Moore is definitely maturing. In his earlier documentaries, he has felt the need to place himself at the centre of his stories, and while he is without doubt an entertaining presence, such narcissism has tended to distract from the real issues. In 'Farenheit 9/11' he takes much more of a backseat, and shows a willingness to allow his political targets to be hanged by their own words as much as by his innuendos. Moore keeps his trademark stunts to a minimum here, which is just as well given their lack of substance. It is enough, surely, to be informed that only one member of Congress has a child on active military duty – but the further spectacle of Moore and a disgruntled serviceman confronting Congressmen on the sidewalk in an attempt to enlist their children adds little to the argument, and makes the only Congressman who proves willing to stop and talk with Moore, Democrat John Tanner, look unfairly ridiculous for his pains (despite having fought for his co untry himself).
Those who follow the news closely will find little new here – the questionable election victory in Florida, Bush's slacking in office pre-9/11, the business connections between his family and the bin Ladens, the profiteering opportunities brought by a war on Iraq, the breaches of civil liberties in the Patriot Act, the lies about Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction and links to al Qaida, have all been documented before, and the footage of the Bush administration used in the film has been compiled mostly from standard media outlets. What makes 'Farenheit 9/11' stand out is its overwhelming concentration of information which, while shrewdly editorialised and certainly more convincing in some parts than in others, represents in its totality a devastating indictment of the current Republican government – and unlike, say, the coverage of events by network news, Moore's feature format allows him to make a point at some length, developing it from a nipping soundbite into a full-jawed mauling. It is one thing to know that Bush was attending a photo opportunity in an elementary school class when he was informed that the second tower had been hit and that the US was under attack, but it is another thing altogether to see the seven agonising minutes of inaction that followed.
It's Got: Merciless Bush-baiting, Paul Wolfowitz repeatedly slicking his hair with his own spit, footage of Bush clowning to camera just before announcing the first strikes on Baghdad, and a hilariously vapid soundbite from Britney Spears.
It Needs: To lose the clownish stunts (like reading the Patriot Act on an ice-cream van tannoy outside Congress or buttonholing politicians to enlist their children in the armed forces) - the arguments are compelling enough without these essentially unhelpful antics.
Alternatives:Bowling for Columbine, Roger and Me
Once again the big man stands up for the little man, in this powerful onslaught on Bush and co.