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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Fahrenheit 9/11 (review)

Moore Misbehavin’

The first time Michael Moore met George W. Bush — which is how Moore describes the moment when he introduced himself by shouting his name at Bush across a crowd — Bush smirks and shouts back: “Behave yourself!”

Moore caught it on film, of course, and it’s right here in the middle of Fahrenheit 9/11, his latest indulgence in wonderful, messy, angry, bitter, funny, glorious not-behaving-himself. The film is loud and opinionated and even crude sometimes, and thank god for that. It’s about damn time someone stood up and yelled from the rooftops what lots of us who don’t have bully pulpits have been griping about for ages now: The Bush administration led the United States into an unprecedented aggressive war based upon lies and fearmongering, and they did it for their own personal financial gain.
The reaction to such an assertion will be partisan, of course, but Moore doesn’t break any news here; there are no facts presented here that anyone who reads muckraking political blogs and foreign newspapers and doesn’t rely solely on Anderson Cooper for their news doesn’t already know. It’s in the way that Moore presents it that’s devastating… even to someone like me, who was with Moore (Bowling for Columbine) all the way even before I saw the film. I learned nothing new from Fahrenheit 9/11, but it floored me with its passionate — okay, scathingly vicious — but well-documented critique of the indisputable behavior and backgrounds of Bush and Co. Call the film an interpretation of the facts if you must, if it makes you feel better, but it’s an interpretation Sherlock Holmes would approve of: When you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be true.

It’s simple detective work — Moore suggests as much by derisively illustrating the bungling, deliberate or not, of the investigation into the September 11 attacks with clips from Dragnet: Joe Friday as a more effective cop than the totality of the FBI or the CIA. It’s the first question in a police investigation: Who benefits from a crime? Since it’s safe to assume lust or jealousy weren’t motives here, we follow the money: Who makes out like mad from war in the Middle East, in Iraq, specifically? Moore builds the case — again, I must emphasize, on undisputed fact, such as that the Bin Laden family, which theoretically disowned Osama yet some members of which still showed up for his son’s wedding mere months before 9/11, is in bed, financially speaking, with the Bush family — against a litany of familiar names. Harken. Carlyle. Haliburton. Enron. Cheney. Rumsfeld. Lay. The Saudi royal family. Bush.

“Bush ran Arbusto into the ground,” Moore notes of one of G.W.’s early oil ventures, one that was, notably, a failed company propped up by Bin Laden money, “as he did every other company he ran.” And now, by clear implication, Bush is running the whole damn country into the ground. For money. For the enrichment of his pals. It’s a disgusting thought, barely conceivable, one that no one really wants to believe — it’s too awful. But the only other explanations are sheer coincidence or sheer incompetence. Or a combination of the two: Could it have been just pure dumb luck that poor planning allowed for too few troops to be sent to Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11 to capture Osama Bin Laden, but just enough to dislodge the Taliban, who coincidentally were refusing to cooperate with a gas pipeline deal with American corporations in which Bush administration officials just by fortuitous chance have a stake?

I wish Moore had actually made the point in the film that the Taliban were not going to give way for that pipeline, because he seems to contradict himself: If the Taliban were so cozy with Bush — he hosted a delegation of them in Texas while he was governor, buttering them up for the business; watch for the disgusting exchange one Taliban has with a female reporter — why would Bush have to invade Afghanistan at all? I wish Moore had made the point, too, that plans for taking out the Taliban were in place long before 9/11, and the attacks merely provided an easy pretext. If there’s one big thing that bugs me about Fahrenheit 9/11, it’s that Moore let pass some pretty damning evidence that he could have used. He could have made an even tighter case than he does.

But there’s plenty little-known stuff here that Moore brings to a wider audience than it’s had before, brings to all those people who trusted in the American media to tell them everything they needed to know, and have been so miserably let down that they don’t even know what they don’t know. And the power of Moore’s presentation is undeniable even when he’s preaching to the choir. I knew that protesters met Bush along his inauguration route in January 2001, but the first images I’ve ever seen of the near riot that ensued in the streets of Washington DC are stunning — why didn’t we see these on TV then? The terrifying specter of Attorney General John Ashcroft singing his own composition, “Let the Eagle Soar,” is enough to convince you that the man is insane (if you weren’t already so convinced).

Most damning of all: those seven minutes in that Florida elementary school, after Bush was notified of the second plane hitting the World Trade Center. You may have heard how Bush continued reading to the kids. But you probably haven’t seen how flummoxed he was with no one to tell him what to do, the deer-in-headlights look on his face. Moore wants to bring down the president, and he just might do it in seven minutes.


MPAA: rated R for some violent and disturbing images, and for language

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

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