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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, there’s 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, we’re told, will be the ones who will decide the winner of the upcoming presidential election. Let’s 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 won’t be swayed one way or the other by Michael Moore’s 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 can’t 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, it’s hard to believe that any sentient being in this country isn’t at least aware of the movie’s existence. Even though it hasn’t been released yet, the film, which Moore hastily assembled after winning the Best Documentary Feature Oscar for 2002’s 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 event’s top prize, the Palme d’Or; Disney’s 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 Eisner’s 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.

That’s an impressive amount of media exposure for a movie that doesn’t feature a boy wizard or a green ogre, but it doesn’t 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, Moore’s main topic of conversation is the Bush clan’s ties to not only the bin Laden family but to influential Saudis who, according to one source’s 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, Bush’s own military record, the abuse of Iraqi prisoners, and the game of “Where’s Waldo and his WMDs?” all merit screen time in Moore’s critical compilation.

Yet Moore isn’t about to let Democrats off the hook, either. He takes them to task for enthusiastically supporting Bush’s 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 there’s 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, he’s 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.

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