I knew going into this one that it would be a contentious subject. Hell, the term “contentious subject” was essentially redefined by this film; the picture next to the word in the dictionary would probably be the poster up there. Michael Moore is the very personification of divisive, and nowhere is he more so than in the film that would become the first documentary to win the Palme d’Or since 1956, Fahrenheit 9/11. When it was screened at Cannes, it received a standing ovation that lasted almost 20 minutes. Quentin Tarantino, the head of the jury that year, later told Moore that the award was given to him for his cinematic achievement, and not for any political over/undertones. After watching the documentary myself, I’m afraid I’m gonna have to call bullshit on Tarantino’s statement. I’ll explain.
For those who completely avoided the year of 2004, Fahrenheit 9/11 deals with Moore taking a microscope to the Bush administration’s handling of the post-9/11 era, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the people behind all those decisions and what they may have really made those decisions for, if not for the American people. Now, I don’t know what glass Moore used in his microscope, but I can only imagine that it was tinted heavily blue; this is one of the most left-leaning documentaries I have ever witnessed, and I say that as a liberal myself. I had previously only seen one Michael Moore documentary before this, his 2007 film Sicko, so I didn’t have a good opinion of what Moore was capable of as a filmmaker (though I’d obviously heard much about his political posturing and grandstanding and tendency to focus only on what supports his argument), but now, I can say this for sure: Michael Moore is only barely a documentarian, though as a filmmaker he sure knows what he’s doing, maybe too well. The fact that Fahrenheit 9/11 offers only one side of every argument it posits is unmistakable; the very nature of its manipulative editing irrefutable. So why is Moore so goddamn popular and, dare I say, revered? Because he knows how to tell a good story. I’d be lying if I said my eyes didn’t start to water up during the last half hour that focuses on the mother from the “proud military family” dealing with the loss of her son to the war and being forced to re-evaluate the entire position of her life; it’s a powerful piece. But it is that it is so powerful that unfortunately makes it so obvious as a deceiver. Well, maybe not deceiver; more like manipulative, or propaganda.
Was it any wonder Moore would turn out the “documentary” he did on this subject? Well, maybe only slightly; most people only had a passing awareness of Moore until Fahrenheit 9/11 blew up the box office and went on to become the highest-grossing documentary in history. Still, in hindsight, Moore’s intentions were in the right place, but the fire that bristles inside his particular furnace is far too wont to burst forth, grab you by the ears, and shove your head in the direction it wants you to go in than to merely act as fuel to a much more balanced engine. I’ll give it points for the story it tells, and for being much more entertaining and attention-grabbing than a documentary normally is, but everything else I could say in support of this film would also be a detraction in some way. Moore is not one to really convert any people; you know where you stand with his viewpoints, either with him or against him, and Fahrenheit 9/11 is exactly the sort of documentary that will make that argument.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10