by Marty Demarest

Fahrenheit 9/11 is a low-budget, gumption-driven political potboiler that explores the attacks of 9/11 and the subsequent war in Iraq. It's already poised to become this summer's My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and at times it's sensational enough to merit a more seasonal, punchy title like F9/11. There's much to cheer here, as filmmaker Michael Moore blithely tackles George W. Bush's case for war in Iraq. With gleeful abandon, Moore ridicules Bush and spreads his face across the screen in disturbing slow motion. As Moore cuts between documentary and cable news footage, his narration cajoles us with "maybes" and "could haves" until it seems like we're channel surfing with Columbo. Sometimes these sections of speculation click -- it was Secretary Rumsfeld in Afghanistan with the pipe -- but at other times it resembles a liberal FOX TV network. It's either cheap fun or sophisticated fun, but it's just a movie.

As a solid argument, it's a mess. I wouldn't risk a GI's life on this information just because Michael Moore sold it to me any more than I would if George W. Bush sold it to me. In other words, as a case against someone, it resembles Bush's against Saddam Hussein. Moore shows us how Bush and Co. put Saddam Hussein's name next to Osama bin Laden's in a well-orchestrated media blitz designed to show how the American public was manipulated. Then, while making his own argument for what might have really happened, Moore jump cuts between pictures of Bush and pictures of some shady-looking man in a turban, saying "Bush," then "Bin Laden," then "Bush," then "Bin Laden."

Yet Fahrenheit 9/11 triumphs as a documentary. What Moore documents -- possibly better than anyone else has yet -- is how hard it was to know anything after 9/11. Moore rarely supports his points with anything more interesting than footage taken from network television -- the same thing he pointed out in the beginning of the film as being tremendously unreliable. He shows us that out of this stream of images, Bush made a case for war and Michael Moore made a movie. They both succeeded. He shows ordinary Americans scared to face the question we raise every time we talk of war: Can we sacrifice our fellow humans? He reveals what that sacrifice looks like. It's a documentary of America at its most unfocused, its most gullible, its most irresponsible.

Perhaps as a testament, it will answer to future viewers: This was an America that was lied to and deceived and which endured a ridiculous president. This was an America in which people thought their full range of freedom was expressed by choosing between two political parties. It was an America that thought it could buy truth for $6 a pop (with air conditioning and popcorn refills!). An America that, wrapped in a wave of multimedia storytelling, drove home, forgetting to ask who was buying all the oil that lay at the root of the war. An America that failed to take responsibility for itself.

Publication date: 07/08/04

Vandal Summer Cinema Series

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