Movie Review: Fahrenheit 11/9
Fahrenheit 11/9 delivers everything we expect from a film documentary written, produced, and directed by Michael Moore — with a few thorny surprises.
Equally hilarious and horrifying, often within the very same scene, Moore wades into what’s become an all-too-familiar territory. This is a scathing cinematic knockout of Donald Trump. In this 120-minute documentary, the 45th President is portrayed somewhere in between a perverted sex fiend and Adolf Hitler.
However, Fahrenheit 11/9 includes a few unanticipated surprises along the way, particularly for those expecting a heavily-partisan, one-sided hit piece on the cotton-candy coiffed prince of darkness. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and the Democratic Party establishment take several body blows, as well. This departure away from expectation will likely blindside some movie audiences certain to trend overwhelmingly liberal and highly-susceptible to Moore’s skilled propaganda. It’s like a slap in Trump’s face that trickles down an assembly line of co-conspirators. Forget about targeting the guilty. It’s become tougher to find anyone who’s innocent
Indeed, Moore is an equal opportunity antagonist in Fahrenheit 11/9. He goes after everybody with any measure of power — politicians, the media, corporations — with a double-barrelled lens. While he’s embraced liberal positions on issues like gun control and universal health care before in previous films, this documentary isn’t pro-Democrat. Rather, Moore’s message is far more unitarian, neutral even, a postulation that the political and economic system in this country has failed the majority of Americans. It’s utterly abandoned common people’s interest in favor of an all-too-powerful class of corrupt elites who unapologetically intend to devour what scraps are still left to plunder. This populist sense of panic isn’t anything new, nor novel. It’s been messaging for more than a century. But it’s conveyed with such conviction throughout this film, we’re left to wonder if it’s now too late. Gee maybe, we’re fucked.
We’ve seen Moore’s emotional investiture several times before. Moore’s undeniable gift as a film documentarian often relies on making the pain of strangers, people of all ages from different parts of the country, intensely personal to those who can taste the salt of their tears. Scene by scene, the film director makes an irrefutable if sometimes a too heavy-handed argument — this time around, the survival of Western-style democracy is at stake. And even though Trump poses the most perilous threat to egalitarianism at the moment, he alone didn’t bring about the ripe conditions which led to his election. Trump, the candidate (and now the president-monarch) merely exploited a national undercurrent of fear and played on the desperation, some might say exasperation, of millions who do deserve a voice and will swallow a load of anyone who sounds even remotely empathetic — especially a gifted a con man experienced to the ways of reality television and mass media.
The first 30 minutes of Fahrenheit 11/9 is riveting — a pure foot-stomping, hand-clapping joy to watch, no matter what your political affiliation. I couldn’t help but conclude that even Trump’s most loyal supporters would love watching the first half-hour of this movie (if nothing else, catch this part). It’s like watching your favorite football team bag-sack the hated rival quarterback and watch as they take him out on a stretcher. In other words, fist-pumping ecstasy. For others including me who voted for Hillary Clinton, the movie provides a healthy prescription of soul cleansing. The narrative becomes an extinguishing agent, like cinematic peroxide. Yes, there’s a sick but giddy perversion in re-living the long nightmare of Trump’s mutant candidacy and watching cronies like John Podesta (Clinton’s inept campaign manager) blowing the easy win as overwhelming favorites, fumbling a sure victory, and getting exposed for incompetence. Berniecrats can also take gleeful joy in Moore’s resuscitation of what would become an electoral autopsy, confirming what we knew and feared all along — that our system is designed to stonewall popular revolt to protect those with power.
As he’s done so artfully before with other documentaries — including Roger and Me, Bowling for Columbine, Sicko, Capitalism: A Love Story, Michael Moore in Trumpland, Where to Invade Next?, and Fahrenheit 9/11 (which is a wordplay on the title of author Ray Bradbury’s classic dystopian novel — using the precise date of Trump’s victory as the start of our national nightmare), Moore regurgitates not only identical themes in his latest film but also an interchangeable structure which is endemic to his delivery. While these techniques were effective in previous films, they’ve since become too repetitive. In other words, predictable. In Fahrenheit 11/9 Moore’s “workers of the world” mantra gets bogged down in a minutia of clips showing city halls and food lines to the point where the film shoots nothing but blanks. It finally runs out of momentum. Like digesting too much tasty bacon, too much of the same thing over and over again gets preachy and eventually becomes boring until the point comes when you can’t take it anymore. Hence, this is a film I can recommend, in part, with strong reservations. It’s a diamond in the rough, with lots of cracks.
Part of the end-problem with Fahrenheit 11/9 likely stems from how the film was made and the unforeseen time-lapse in production between scenes that work (early on) versus those that flop (filler material, towards the end). Moore’s film was about half-completed six months into Trump’s presidency. It was on course to be released during the fall of 2017 — a year ago, a perfectly-timed protest movie for liberals to go and enjoy who desperately needed to blow off some steam. However, the movie encountered a budget crisis with the management shakeup at Miramax (the original production company), associated with the Harvey Weinstein scandal. So, Moore had to seek alternative financing to complete the second half of his movie (why is a mystery — since all of Moore’s movies produce a profit). The year-long delay is readily obvious when watching the finished product. The interruption hurts continuity. Worse, it makes some elements of the film outdated now given the rapidly-changing daily news cycle. Moore bringing up something that happened 18 months earlier was like 234 scandals ago.
Some scenes work and others don’t: Fahrenheit 11/9 melds multiple stories together which don’t blend well overall. Some don’t relate to Trump and his election, at all. For instance, a detailed indictment of precisely how the Flint (Michigan) public water supply was poisoned by a deceitful Republican governor and his crony capitalist pals hoping to line their pockets with a sweetheart government contract is maddening, but not so much on Trump’s watch. Moore certainly ambushes the guilty, which makes for some great theater. With handcuffs and a camera crew in tow, Moore storms into Michigan’s State Capital Building and demands to make a “citizen’s arrest” of the criminal governor who was responsible for Flint’s people drinking water the color of pond scum, even though the city rests less than 100 miles from one of the largest fresh-water lakes in the world. Moore is at his best when he’s the humble shuffling frump in his wrinkled jacket topped with a ball cap, asking questions and terrifying those in power. It’s a beautiful thing to watch.
School shootings are also given prominent focus (and too much time) in Moore’s movie. Frankly, this doesn’t belong here. Moore has covered this territory before, on numerous occasions, far more effectively, but still somehow felt a compulsion to revisit deadly school shootings again. Sure, we can understand why Moore continues hammering the NRA and spineless lapdog politicians since nothing whatsoever has been done since the Columbine massacre more than 20 years ago. But overly-long scenes of activist school kids preaching to adults, while worth a moment or two for inspiration, seems out of place in a movie about the lingering impacts of the 2016 presidential election.
Moore also attempts to link what we’re seeing with Trump and his scary followers to the early rise of Hitler and Nazi Germany. Given what we’ve seen from this president, so far — the lies, the lack of empathy, the division, the racial discord, the xenophobia, the incivility, the lust for power, the disregard of rule of law, the corruption, the obsession with imagery, the slogans, the public rallies, the threat of violence against enemies, the attacks on the press…..just for starters — such comparisons aren’t far-fetched. Unfortunately, Moore gets way too hyperbolic to the point where credibility gets stretched. Is Trump a dictator in the making? Yes. Certainly. Absolutely. He wishes he were a dictator. This is irrefutable given the evidence. However, there’s no reason (yet) to resort to rolling out the ghastly images of gas chambers and ovens when there’s plenty of very real American Constitutional-crisis stuff going on to worry about without invoking Godwin’s Law.
Finally, let’s remember Moore was the only widely-known liberal activist who correctly predicted a Trump victory. He nailed it. That fact alone gives him a street-cred the rest of us sorely lack. Love or loathe Moore, let’s give him props for correctly forecasting what happened on that day of infamy. Accordingly, Fahrenheit 11/9 does gain an authenticity that’s missing in the usual discourse of political post-analysis.
In short, Michael Moore’s latest film isn’t anything we haven’t already seen before. Parts of it are brilliant. Other parts are repetitive and perhaps even counterproductive. Fahrenheit 11/9 receives a mixed review from me.
Grade: 5 on a 10 scale