The financial end of moviemaking is inexorably linked to that most common of Hollywood buzzwords: demographics. The Harry Potter franchise is successful because members of its key demographic young kids who have digested all the books in the series turn up every time the multiplex offers a new cinematic rendition. But Fahrenheit 9/11? Heck, theres no guarantee that members from one of its key demographic groups will even show up at the movie theater.
That group is the undecideds, those scores of Americans who, were told, will be the ones who will decide the winner of the upcoming presidential election. Lets be honest here: For better or worse, Fahrenheit 9/11 will be viewed as a propaganda tool first and a motion picture second, and those with strongly held political views wont be swayed one way or the other by Michael Moores filmic diatribe against the Bush family. Therefore, when the movie opens this Friday on hundreds of screens across the country (the largest launch ever for a documentary), expect the leftists to pack the theaters while the right-wingers stay home and watch TV instead. But what of the political wafflers, the folks who cant decide whether to vote for George W. Bush or John Kerry even though the differences between the candidates are as prominent as those between black and white, night and day, and The Cat In the Hat and Citizen Kane? Will the hype draw them into the theater as Moore expects or will they simply shrug and head for the mall instead, figuring that an informed decision can be made in the voting booth on Election Day?
Impossible to predict. At any rate, its hard to believe that any sentient being in this country isnt at least aware of the movies existence. Even though it hasnt been released yet, the film, which Moore hastily assembled after winning the Best Documentary Feature Oscar for 2002s Bowling for Columbine, has constantly been in the news for one reason or another: the approximately 15-minute standing ovation it received at the Cannes Film Festival (a new fest record); its nabbing of the events top prize, the Palme dOr; Disneys refusal to let its art-house subsidiary Miramax Films release the film (due to either political pressure from the Bush family or Disney head Michael Eisners desire to remain neutral, depending on who tells the story); the selling of the movie back to Miramax heads Harvey and Bob Weinstein, who created a new company (Fellowship Adventure Group) to shelter the picture while also working out distribution deals with Lions Gate Films and IFC Films; and the current attempt to talk the MPAA into changing its R rating into a more inclusive PG-13.
Thats an impressive amount of media exposure for a movie that doesnt feature a boy wizard or a green ogre, but it doesnt answer the central question: Is Fahrenheit 9/11 worth seeing? Certainly. And not even so much because of its politics, but because of its compassion.
Initially, Moores main topic of conversation is the Bush clans ties to not only the bin Laden family but to influential Saudis who, according to one sources estimates, have contributed well over a billion dollars to Bush interests. But Moore also makes sure to touch upon other scandals that have plagued this administration since Day One: Halliburton, Bushs own military record, the abuse of Iraqi prisoners, and the game of Wheres Waldo and his WMDs? all merit screen time in Moores critical compilation.
Yet Moore isnt about to let Democrats off the hook, either. He takes them to task for enthusiastically supporting Bushs war as well as endorsing the Patriot Act. And in one memorable interlude, he approaches various members of Congress in an effort to recruit their kids to fight in Iraq.
The movie works best when he removes himself from the equation and lets his subjects hang themselves through existing news footage. Here, for instance, is Bush addressing his wealthy admirers at a lavish banquet: This is an impressive crowd: the haves, and the have-mores. Some people call you the elite; I call you my base. And then theres the astounding footage shot the morning of September 11, when Bush was at a Florida elementary school reading My Pet Goat to a classroom of small children. Even after being informed that America was under attack on its own soil, the ersatz Prez simply sits there for a full seven minutes with no one to tell him what to do, hes like a deer caught in headlights.
Fahrenheit 9/11 is at its most gripping when it simply focuses on the innocent people whose lives have been destroyed either by the heinous terrorists or by the abhorrent policies of this administration.
Errol Morris 1988 The Thin Blue Line, about a man serving a life sentence for a murder he did not commit, is rightly considered a landmark documentary, largely because it was responsible for springing its subject from prison. Fahrenheit 9/11 has the potential to make a similar mark in history: If viewed by the right people, those inquisitive undecideds, it has the potential to save hundreds, perhaps thousands, of lives and topple a dictatorship in the process.
As is often the case with historical sagas, the picture relegates lots of fascinating material into a few blocks of text at the end, giving short shrift to the subsequent accomplishments of two people who refused to be defined merely by their physical appearances.
Keanu Reeves is again suitably taciturn as the former assassin who, just when he thought he was out, gets pulled back in, and the criminal world created for the first picture — a landscape in which there exists neutral-zone hotels in which no blood may be spilled – retains its unique appeal.
The major liabilities of the first picture have been neatly carried over into this latest endeavor, beginning with the fact that the general prudishness permeating throughout American society makes it impossible for Hollywood to produce an honest, provocative or explicit film about S-E-X and have it receive an R rating.