Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004)
Directed by Michael Moore

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * ½

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Synopsis & Analysis
In Fahrenheit 9/11 Michael Moore attempts to evoke a sense of horror at the callousness, cruelty, selfishness, greed, and stupidity of George Bush's regime, and while he does often succeed in doing so, he also frequently fails. At his sarcastic best, Moore shows real skill as a satirist, but, unfortunately, he often allows the film to meander away from its topic and become both excessively maudlin and clumsily propagandistic.

The first half of Fahrenheit 9/11, which concentrates on presenting evidence of George's connections with various moneyed interests, especially a number of wealthy Saudis, including the Bin Laden family, is undoubtedly more effective than is the second. By providing documentary evidence, Moore makes the viewer aware of a variety of disturbing facts which, in turn, often engender feelings of horror at George's activities. The greatest weakness of this part of the movie is the vagueness of much of the information given. We are, for example, told how certain Saudis invested in George's companies, but we are not informed how their investments compared with those of other investors or where else their money was being invested. If the persons in question owned only a relatively small percentage of any of his companies, George might not even have been particularly aware of them, and if their investments were only a small percentage of what they had invested overall, they might not have been aware of him. Their investment in one of George's companies could even have been a routine matter handled exclusively by brokers. Nevertheless, although Moore does not provide sufficient evidence to convince the viewer of his allegations, he is able to arouse his suspicions.

Furthermore, while Moore may not prove that George is dependent on specific Saudi investors, he does remind the viewer that both George and Dick Cheney belong to America's wealthy elite and work for the advantage of that elite. Both these men, in fact, emerge as truly frightening, amoral individuals who are willing to manipulate the American people and sacrifice the lives of their lessers for their own profit. George and Dick may or may not be beholden to various wealthy Saudis, but, as Moore clearly shows, they are so connected with America's own plutocrats that most any policy they enact is going to serve the interests of that group, not the American people. The scenes exposing these connections are among the most insightful and disturbing of the film, and Moore deftly uses them to engender a real sense of dread for the two men controlling the United States government.

Occasionally, however, the film is weakened by its mentioning but not examining specific topics. Although, for example, Moore does briefly touch upon the relationships of prior Republican regimes with both Saddam Hussein and the Taliban, he does not discuss these relationships in any detail. Given that both of the bogeymen of George's first term were created by his Republican predecessors, including his own father, much of the nature of his regime could have been revealed by such an investigation. Unfortunately, Moore mentions these connections only in passing and fails to elaborate on them.

The second half of the documentary is, sadly, far weaker than the first. Instead of discussing George's policy decisions, Moore concentrates on presenting the horrors of war. While I concede that the images he shows are disturbing, they are also crudely manipulative and do little to indict his target. They are, in fact, reminiscent of countless other propaganda efforts, from First World War British posters showing "Huns" trampling on the corpses of women and children to Nazi films supposedly exposing the sufferings of German peoples living under Slavic tyranny. These ham-handed attempts to depict the evil effects of George and Dick's government are so consistently maudlin and so painfully manipulative that they greatly detract from the film's impact. Perhaps they are an indictment of human nature and our predilection for violence, but they do little to arouse repugnance for either George or Dick.

Having almost completely lost the viewer's attention with this long digression, Moore is able, at the very end of Fahrenheit 9/11, to rekindle the sense of fear he had earlier produced. He concludes the film with an extended quotation from George Orwell's 1984, in which that author discusses how the ruler of a given country may wage war not to overcome an external enemy but to rally the people of his own nation behind him and, thereby, to consolidate his own power. Having made them fearful of some danger beyond their borders, the ruler may attempt to convince the people to abandon their liberties for the sake of some supposed national good. Using Orwell's words, Moore asks if the "war on terrorism" is really against Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein or if it is against American freedoms. Is it, perhaps, merely an excuse to force through legislation intended to build the powerful, intrusive state favored by most Republican politicians? Sadly, Moore does not spend much time on this, the most interesting question he asks, but, by asking it, he is able to reignite a burning fear in the viewer's heart.

Whatever its faults, Fahrenheit 9/11 does, at least in its first half, arouse in the viewer feelings of horror at the inhumanity and selfishness of America's current rulers. It is, as a consequence, a deeply disturbing film that is well worth watching.

Review by Keith Allen

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