Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004)
Written and directed by Michael Moore

In terms of stemming off the mounting swell of antagonism toward him personally, Michael Moore does himself few favors with the histrionic screed of Fahrenheit 9/11, which unfortunately offers precisely what you'd expect it would: powerful images used to support disconnected facts about the George W. Bush administration, none of which ever amounts to an actual point being made. Moore trots out his usual minstrel show of tearful just-plain-folk (mostly Black) to lure your heart out to where your head won't let you go.

Once considered a documentarian, Moore is ever more naked as a propagandist since Bowling For Columbine and his strident opposition to Bush's "fictitious" presidency. That's fine, and undoubtedly there needs to be a Michael Moore out there to fuel the fires of debate. But it's increasingly clear that Moore has turned himself into a symbol not that far from Bush or any of the folks he would hold up to ridicule – like Al Franken, Moore can too easily be reduced to a caricature of liberal discontent, accused of simply "whining" and not contributing a constructive alternative. Phil Ochs would have hated this guy.

And while I didn't much like Fahrenheit 9/11, I'm all the more interested in Moore as a person. With each film, his rage becomes more fascinating, his obsession with accountability seems so obviously coming from a deeply personal place. Why, for instance, does he need to take a detour to Flint, Michigan in every film, when at this point (and especially in Fahrenheit, which desperately needed its anger to be meticulously focused), the mere mention of that place is bound to elicit impatient eye-rolling in any viewer who isn't there just to validate some shallow idea of "hating Bush?"

As with his earlier films, the strength and weakness of Moore's impassioned assertions stem from their veracity: his opinioneering is convincing when it's rooted in fact, but more often it falls apart like a drunken tirade. He throws a lot of facts into the air and expects them to hang together as if by magic, but most of the points don't connect into a conspiratorial truth. Some of Moore's points:

1. Bush won the presidency illegally.
2. Bush spent most of his early presidency on vacation.
3. Bush stared blankly and did nothing after being informed of the 9/11 contretemps.
4. Bush used 9/11 as a pretext for invading Iraq, which he wanted to do anyway.
5. Bush's family has ties to the Bin Laden family.
6. Bush allowed Bin Laden family members and other Saudis living in the US to leave the country immediately following 9/11, when no one else was allowed to fly.
7. Bush's family has financial interests in Afghanistan and Iraq.
8. Bush is stupid.

Some reflections on these points:

1. Bush probably did win the election illegally, but all that aside, would the world necessarily be better with Gore in office?
2. Vacation is always a good idea. I'd go on vacation all the time if I could.
3. It didn't seem to me that Bush looked evil or at all blank while sitting in the classroom on 9/11. He looked confused and concerned … much like almost everyone I remember seeing that morning.
4. Agreed, that was a pretty lame thing to do.
5. That's not surprising, nor is it relevant to anything except the idea that people with money hang with other people with money.
6. That's curious, but does not seem particularly deceptive.
7. As do a lot of people who want to make a lot of money.
8. No one who is truly stupid becomes president.

Moore seems to want his audience to draw all sorts of nefarious conclusions from the various facts presented, yet all I got out of it was what I already knew: politicians are untrustworthy and always act in their own best interest first and foremost. The filmmaker's cherished belief that the President of the United States must be some kind of paragon of populist activism and moral virtue is completely fallacious. NO president has ever been anything like that, and certainly all of them since FDR have been duplicitous and shady. They're politicians, after all. I don't get the partisan viewpoint that causes people to automatically hate a president from the political party they're not themselves a part of. Republicans do not, by default, instantly plunge the country into a dark era of crushed freedom and financial squalor, any more than Democrats automatically solve all of the world's problems upon taking office.

Moore's lifestyle has improved dramatically during the Bush presidency. Mine, too. I didn't vote for Bush (nor Gore), but things have been pretty good for me. But then, my life has not been meaningfully affected by any president's administration. What matters to me is what happens in my life – what I accomplish, what music lights me up, who I love, who loves me – the presidency is a backdrop. Am I apolitical? No – just egotistical. And it takes more than just another egotist to incite me politically. I'd have to, like, get raped by George W. Bush to really bother hating him.

Moore's brand of egotism, though, is so global in its narcissism that it borders on sociopathic – with all of his misdirected anger, I can only wonder what, exactly, he is driving it. Was he beaten as a kid? Drunk dad? Teenage body image shame? Why does he keep dragging us back to Flint, Michigan to try and recapture the golden days before JFK was assassinated? What innocence was lost?

And that's what this movie should have been: Moore taking a long look at George W. Bush and then asking himself "What is it about this guy that makes me so mad?" That movie would have been fascinating: Michael Moore trying to make peace, inside himself, with George W. Bush and all the other hypocritical white-male authority figures he feels the need to lambaste. As Moore's films involve the director so centrally as a character, it's impossible to see Fahrenheit 9/11 and not slide into armchair-psychiastrist mode. For this movie is not, really, at all about George W. Bush.

Or, since everyone is so scared of therapy, how about this one: a movie using similar media-neglected facts and footage to dissect Al Gore's own nefarious side (for, since he's a politician, there must be one), and to really assess the potential impact of Gore taking the reins in 2000 instead of Bush. Something to blow apart all the knee-jerk partisanship and give people real information instead of easy potshots – that would be constructive provocation.

Unfortunately, all Fahrenheit 9/11 aims to accomplish is to sway votes for John Kerry, and to captitalize on a wartime election year. Moore's very non-blue-collar coffers will benefit so strongly that this movie mostly seems like Moore furiously gobbling up giant coins in a bonus round of "Super Mario Brothers."

Review by Jermaine Squeeze