Review: Fahrenheit 9/11

Posted by: Mark McLeod  //  June 25, 2004 @ 11:59am

Filed under: Movie Reviews 

What can be said about filmmaker Michael Moore that hasn't been said time and time again? Responsible for the films Roger and Me and the highly controversial Bowling for Columbine, this documentarian has never shyed away from creating controversy. His Oscar speech for Columbine offered up a rant against U.S. President George W. Bush and his outspokenness about his distaste for Bush is public record. Like any filmmaker, he has his supporters and his naysayers, with countless internet websites both defending and refuting the positions he took in Columbine. To me Michael Moore is simply an entertaining filmmaker who may not be right all of the time and has been known to stage scenes in his films for dramatic purposes, but still creates highly entertaining and engaging documentaries. Still, regardless of where one might stand on the issue of Michael Moore and his political beliefs and points of view on thought-provoking topics, there is no doubting the man's ability to present a compelling argument that, if it does nothing else, sparks discussion. And you can't argue with the fact that discussion is a good thing. He is not trying to force you into his way of thinking, he is simply providing an outlet for discussion and making information available that is not available through other means.

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past year you no doubt have heard about Moore's latest film and its journey to the screen. The film, funded by Miramax (a Disney-owned company) was dropped from that studio at the behest of Disney executives after it was feared the film would jeopardize the corporation's tax interests in the state of Florida " a state where George W. Bush's brother Jeb is the current Governor. Then, the film played the Cannes Film Festival and won the coveted Palm D'Or, as Michael Moore received a 20-minute standing ovation following an afternoon gala screening. Now in the two weeks leading up to the film's release, new distributors Lions Gate Films (a Canadian company no less) and IFC Films are having problems booking the film into theaters, with 3 semi-major chains flat out refusing to book the film on any of their screens. One theater manager, in a Bush-controlled stronghold state, has received death threats after deciding to play the feature. Add to that the fact that the film received an "R" rating from the MPAA, which significantly reduces the number of people the film can reach. Some in the pro-Moore camp have seen that move as the White House getting together with the MPAA to quash this film as sort of a swan song for outgoing MPAA president Jack Valenti. So with all this hype and controversy surrounding the release added to the usual anticipation of a new project from Michael Moore, I was interested in seeing just what was so bad about this film that so many giants of industry in the United States didn't want audiences to see.

Fahrenheit 9/11 details a number of events surrounding the attacks by Al Queda members on the 11th of September, 2001. After winning the Presidency in one of the most questionable elections in U.S. history, George W. Bush " or Dubya " was off to a rough start. He was having all sorts of problems and the early word was that he could be considered a lame duck president. In fact, in the month prior to September 11th, Bush was seen for the most part on vacation either at Camp David, fishing, or hitting the links. On the morning of the attacks, Bush was doing a photo-op at a Florida elementary school. When he was notified about the first plane hitting the World Trade Center, he decided to continue sitting there reading a children's book as if nothing had happened. 7 minutes pass before anything happens. That is just one of the many dumb things Bush would do over the next few years.

The film documents the relationship between the Bush family and a number of Saudi billionaires, many of which have invested in or sat on the board of many of the companies George Jr. and Sr. have owned or had significant interest in. It details at length the favours the Bush administration did for Prince Bandar, the Saudi Ambassador who asked for over 100 members of the Saudi Royal Family and many Binladens to be allowed to fly out of the U.S. during the period in which all air traffic was supposed to be shut down. Why would Bush let the family members of one of the suspected masterminds out of the country without interrogating them first? Perhaps because he doesn't want to upset his father's friends and ruin potential business ties that might be useful in the future.

The second major issue discussed in the film is the U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. Moore talks at length, and has interview and film footage to prove it, about how the American government had a pre-existing plan to try and gain control in Iraq to finish a business deal proposed in the 80s for a huge pipeline. This deal was then awarded to a number of companies managed at one point by either Bush or Vice-President Dick Cheney and approved by officials that had some ties to either the Saudi Royal Family or the Bushes. Basically, Moore says that the entire war in Iraq was created to gain U.S. control to get this pipeline built.

Another notable moment in the film is Moore musing on how the American Terror Alert system is nothing more than a closely controlled propaganda technique used to manipulate the American public into a further state of fear and paranoia. The film also touches the heart in all of us with a series of interviews with Flint, Michigan native Lila Liscomb, who at the beginning is a stark supporter of the military until her son dies in a black hawk down incident in Iraq.

The above-mentioned topics are just a few of the many subjects Moore puts on screen during this nearly two-hour patriotic film. Much hype has been made in the media that Moore's sole purpose in creating this film was to show the American public just how much of an idiot George W. Bush is. That couldn't be further from the truth as I found this to be a well-carved-out film dealing with his patriotism and love of the United States and how he feels that Bush has let the public down as their leader. There is no doubt the film is edited to make Bush look worse than he actually is, and while I don't find myself agreeing with everything in the film, there are some undeniable examples in the film on why perhaps he is conducting his Presidency the way he is.

Like most of Moore's other films, he uses a number of techniques, including comedic reenactments and vignettes, to put forward his message. However Farenheit 9/11 marks a bit of a departure for Moore as he is rarely seen on screen, opting to let the footage and his voiceover narration speak for themselves. That's not to say he's entirely absent from the screen, because he does make his presence known in a rather humorous sequence where he tries to convince members of congress to have their children sign up for the effort in Iraq. There is, however, decidedly less comedy in the film (not that it's absent altogether " just watch for a clip of an interview with Britney Spears). He also shows tremendous restraint when using brutal war footage and pays tribute to the events of 9/11 by not showing the now-known images of planes hitting the towers. Instead we are shown a black screen with terrifying audio. Moore's usual well-chosen music choices also add to the atmosphere of the picture.

Fahrenheit 9/11 is an important piece of movie making and one that should be seen by as many members of the American voting public as possible, as well as anyone who has an interest in seeing a different take on the events of 9/11 and the continuous efforts by the U.S. Military in Iraq. Despite being slightly flawed and unfocused in places, Michael Moore has created a film that will continue to be the subject of many water cooler discussions. It also does have the ability to influence voters in the upcoming election. It presents an interesting and thought-provoking take on the media-spun war in Iraq, and offers insight into some of the possible motives for Mr. Bush. As is always the case given Moore's track record and questionable editing techniques, there might be some material that is tweaked and spun in a way that makes it more favorable for his interests. Still, there is no questioning that Fahrenheit 9/11 will spark discussion and that is a good thing. Going into the film, I had my questions about Bush's motives and actions and coming out of the film I felt my thoughts have been justified. I didn't believe everything on screen but it sparked my interest and that's ultimately what's important.

Mark McLeod has always loved film. In addition to his roles with ShowbizMonkeys.com, Mark also works on many film promotion projects in Vancouver, BC, through his company, Mark McLeod PR.

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