Dir/scr: Michael Moore.US. 2004. 112mins
A generation ago, thedogged, unwavering efforts of investigative journalists Bob Woodward and CarlBernstein helped to dislodge a president from power. Times change but couldhistory repeat itself with Fahrenheit 911' Probably not, but MichaelMoore's blistering documentary offers such a comprehensive assault on thefailings, lies and deceptions of the Bush administration that it may well playa part in the 2004 Presidential election.
Inevitably, it is becoming afocus for anti-Bush sentiment and those US voters disillusioned by the war inIraq. Arriving in Cannes to a fever pitch of expectation, the film has alwaysrisked preaching to the converted but has a chance to attract all across thepolitical spectrum from the partisan to the apathetic, Moore's critics andthose who are just curious to discover what all the fuss is about. Distributorsaround the world can anticipate massive media attention and returns on a parwith Bowling For Columbine.
Fahrenheit 911 is less focused than Columbine as it presentsMoore's wide-ranging reflections on the past four years of US history, from thePresidential election of 2000 through the events of September 2001 to thesearch for weapons of mass destruction and the ongoing war in Iraq.
It is a lot of ground tocover in just two hours but Moore does it without too many awkward shifts ofgear between events on the world stage and their personal impact on some of thepeople in his home-town of Michigan.
Told with passion andcutting sarcasm, the film has a good deal of the Moore trademarks, from a deftuse of various television and pop culture clips to embarrassing encounters withthe great and the good. Moore is mischievous as ever - at one point he tries toconvince members of the Congress to encourage their children to enlist andfight in the war. The irony and childish iconoclasm are still there but this isa film in which an adult sense of anger and frustration also dominate.
"Was it all just a dream'"Moore enquires as he investigates the 2000 election and the widespread beliefthat the result was manipulated by Bush's cronies. The four years of the BushPresidency provide a structure to the film as Moore traces the mutuallybeneficial connections between the Bush family and the ruling elite of SaudiArabia who are said to own 7% of America. Bush Jr is depicted as a lazy,empty-headed buffoon who was on holiday 42% of the time during the first eightmonths in office.
Moore handles the 9/11attacks with discretion - foregoing the jaded footage of the planes hitting theTwin Towers he fades the screen to black and lets the cacophony of distress andalarms speak for themselves. Moore alsoreveals how 24 Bin Laden family members, who were in the US on 9/11,were allowed to leave for home two days after the attacks - with the approvalof the White House.
Filled with probingquestions and disturbing footage, Fahrenheit 911 covers territory andputs accusations that many will recognise. But Moore stitches them together insuch a fascinating way that he succeeds in exposing the profound failure of USdemocracy.
The Democrats are seen to beirrelevant as a force of opposition. The media is widely partisan. The publicis ill-informed and gullible. The politicians are cynical and sly. And thereare moments that take the breath away. One member of the House ofRepresentative calmly informs Moore that no one ever reads the Bills that theypass and he is ridiculously naive to believe that they ever could.
The causes and consequencesof the Iraq war also revisit some familiar arguments but they are illustratedwith unfamiliar footage of interviews with the troops, grieving relatives inthe US and the military's recruitment drives among the poorest citizens of theland.
Fahrenheit 911 is compelling viewing but it does lose some momentumin its final third, which leaves you yearning for a Charlton Heston moment inwhich Moore gets a chance to go mano-a-mano with those he accuses. Inevitably,they have no chance to counter-attack and some may feel the absence of thisright to reply and lack of balance a weakness.
It seems unlikely to effectthe appetite for the film as this is a provocative, manipulative, funny,shocking and completely unmissable letter from America in which Moore is asdeadly as any Weapon of Mass Destruction.
Prod co: Dog Eat Dog Films
Int'l sales: Wild Bunch
Prods: Kathleen Glynn, JimCzarnecki
Co-prods: Jeff Gibbs, KurtEngfehr
Cine: Mike Desjarlais
Eds: Kurt Engfehr, ChristopherSeward, T Woody Richman
Music: Jeff Gibbs