His Latest, Fahrenheit 11/9, Does More Than Just Take Cheap Shots
Let’s face it, who really wants to see a Michael Moore movie? It’s like eating cabbage or flossing. You might do it, but probably out of necessity or guilt. Moore wants to remind us of our better angels, but he really just gripes about the moral shortcomings of our country. He’s a nag.
And his filmmaking style is even more tedious, with the subtlety of a political cartoon and the boob-tube wit of tweener TV, all larded with a dorky veneer. It’s the agit-prop equivalent of a dad joke.
FAHRENHEIT 11/9 ★★★★ (4/5 stars)
Directed by: Michael Moore
Running time: 125 min.
But the man sure knows how to build an argument. And the case he lays out against the current White House is not only damning—it’s chilling. Fahrenheit 11/9 is need-to-see viewing, a worthy successor to Fahrenheit 9/11 and a depressing, enraging companion piece that points out the chronic, endemic fault lines throughout our corroded and corrupt political system.
Of course Moore doesn’t like Trump, but Fahrenheit 11/9 is more than just pot shots at the low-hanging fruit otherwise known as the #MAGA administration. Not that he doesn’t revel in the cheap blows: footage of Election Day and its aftermath are cued to Mozart’s Requiem, Leoncavallo’s tragic clown opera Pagliacci, and the main theme to schlock horror classic The Omen. “It looked like a perp walk,” cracks Moore at the ashen faces of team Trump gathering onstage for The Donald’s hollow victory speech.
We get it, we get it: Trump isn’t qualified for the job. In Moore’s cheekily reductive opinion, Trump’s presidential run started as a publicity stunt after the fading Apprentice star heard that Gwen Stefani was getting a higher payday from NBC for The Voice. And then he stayed in the race because people kept showing up for his rallies and eating up all his rageaholic populism. No one expected him to win, and now we’re stuck with him. Got it.
Cue the destruction of institutional mores. But here’s the thing: that type of slow-walk American carnage has been happening for decades (as anyone watching Moore’s movies knows too well). Which is why the film’s focus quickly shifts to the privatization of the water supply for Moore’s long-suffering hometown, Flint, Michigan, which was meant to generate millions in profits for Republican governor Rick Snyder and his cronies but only ended up poisoning the remaining residents of that dying metropolis.
Flint has continued to be a prime example of the debased American dream. It’s not even a stretch for Moore to make that argument. He didn’t cause the water poisoning—let alone the fact that, in 2015, the U.S. military got permission from the governor to go to abandoned, hollowed-out parts of Flint and used them for urban warfare exercises. You literally can’t make this shit up.
And when the Parkland teenage survivors of last winter’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High turned their anguish into activist anger with the March for Our Lives rally, they also reached out to Moore for a pow-wow. Honestly, I think Moore would be the happiest person on earth if he didn’t have to make another movie. But every new film he makes reminds me of Michael Corleone’s famous quote from The Godfather Part III: “Just when I thought I was out…they pull me back in.”
In a weird way, Moore’s crass publicity stunts, sloppy sight gags and broad oversimplifications are ideally suited for Trump and his amateur-hour reality show theatrics. The Trump era only understands brute force. Like opening Pandora’s Box, the President and his callous policies have unleashed a local-level electorate that, ironically enough, might just Make America Great Again—even if that means busting some heads to knock some common sense back into them. “I will fist-fight you in the street,” a rookie candidate for a statehouse race crows with righteous indignation. Hell yes.
What’s really shocking is that Fahrenheit 11/9 doesn’t feel superfluous or excessive; it’s not Moore taking a vainglorious stab at yet another Republican administration for his own self-congratulatory preening (and the compromise-crippled Democrats don’t get off easy, either—even Obama comes across as kind of a dick). If anything, the movie feels like a summation of all Moore’s previous films.
Flint’s water crisis has deep roots in the corporate greed of 1989’s Middle-class Michigander cri-de-coeur Roger and Me. The Parkland kids are the gun-culture school-shooting generation raised after 2002’s Bowling for Columbine. The West Virginia teacher walkouts over health care and decent wages point directly back to 2007’s look at nationalized medicine, Sicko, as well as 2009’s history of union erosion, Capitalism: A Love Story. And the women candidates suddenly mushrooming around this country after Trump’s unimaginable presidential win makes 2015’s Where to Invade Next, with its celebration of female leadership and its power check on toxic machismo tendencies, seem prescient.
What’s most remarkable is how Moore’s concerns have remained constant while the country’s body politic continues to worsen. He’s less like the grandstanding liberal that conservative pundits love to hate and more like the canary in a coal mine whose obsessions have developed into the fundamental issues of today.
Fahrenheit 11/9 leaves viewers with another gag that actually chokes in your throat: newsreel footage of a Nazi rally where Adolf Hitler’s voice is swapped out for one of Trump’s red-meat rally speeches. It’s a cheap dig, but it sticks, and lingers in the mind. People called Hitler a buffoon, too. And Trump is already spewing trial balloon kidding-not-kidding remarks about abolishing presidential term limits.
Never forget that some outrageous behavior actually deserves outrage. “Our time is up,” Moore says at the end. “We need to act immediately.” Hysterical? Seems like anything but.