Writer & Director: Michael Moore
Review: Michael Dalton, Prime Minister
With Donald Trump, does Michael Moore face his vindication or obsolescence? The answer is somewhere between the two, as he releases his best film in years yet sees his role in the resistance undeniably diminished.
Moore’s answer will be unsurprising to those familiar with his politics. While sold as a documentary about Trump, the majority of the film isn’t about him specifically, but rather the broken system that created him. As a result, the Democratic Party, and in particular the Clintons and Obama, come out of the film looking just as villainous as Trump if not more so. While correct to take a systemic view, it is clear over the course of the film that Moore has his own biases. In putting forward parts of his argument, counter-arguments aren’t explored and contradictions are made. Some would say this is par for the course for Michael Moore and indeed any polemicist. However, the risk is that when he does turn his attention back to Trump later in the film, comparing him to Hitler and warning about the death of American democracy, it feels somewhat undermined by what’s come before.
Whether you agree with all of Moore’s opinions or not, he is an undeniably skilled filmmaker. Fahrenheit 11/9 grabs your attention from the start, with Moore having an ability to make political documentaries that are funnier than most comedies while also being scarier than most horrors. There are sequences in this that stand up amongst some of his very best work. However, where Fahrenheit 11/9 suffers is in lacking the single-issue focus of his earlier films. It is at its most focused, and not coincidentally strongest, when dealing with the poisoning of the water supply in Flint, Michigan. It being his home city, Moore addresses Flint’s plight with a real forcefulness, the details garnering audible shock from the audience. While he uses it to make a bigger point about disillusionment with the system, you can’t help but feel a whole film dedicated to the subject may have been better.
Meanwhile, the film is at its most empowering when Moore lets others take centre stage, most notably the group of students who have turned to gun control activism following the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Getting a behind-the-scenes look at their operation is an inspirational moment of hope in a film that otherwise sorely lacks it. There’s a telling moment where, speaking to the teenagers, Moore says that if his generation did anything right it was in raising them. “My smartphone raised me,” comes the reply. In relation to their efforts, and others who Moore highlights in the film such as striking teachers in West Virginia, his customary stunts (this time an attempted citizen’s arrest on Michigan Governor Rick Snyder) can’t help but feel superficial. Perhaps realizing that the future belongs to them, the film’s last word is saved not for Trump, or for Michael Moore, but for Emma Gonzalez.
Indeed, there’s the suggestion early on in Fahrenheit 11/9 that it might represent something of a mea culpa from Michael Moore. At the beginning of the film he highlights his own interactions with the Trump family over the years. For example, did you know that Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner held a party to celebrate the release of Moore’s healthcare documentary Sicko? Or that Steve Bannon, Trump’s former strategist, was behind the home video release, and lauds Michael Moore as a brilliant filmmaker? Moore stops there in terms of examining his own role in the creation of Trump. Perhaps understandably, he is unwilling to consider in front of his audience whether to his opponents he is now part of the furniture at best, or an inspiration at worst.
Despite having lost none of his fire or filmmaking ability, it is hard not to see with the release of Fahrenheit 11/9 a loss of Michael Moore’s influence. When Fahrenheit 9/11 was released it was a political and cultural phenomenon. It won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and was the highest grossing documentary of all time. By contrast, Fahrenheit 11/9 took only $3 million in its opening weekend. Seeing the film at the London Film Festival, where Michael Moore came on stage afterwards for a disappointingly brief and unrevealing interview with Owen Jones, it was clear looking at the audience that he was preaching to the choir.
Perhaps it was ever thus, Bowling for Columbine didn’t end gun violence. Fahrenheit 9/11 didn’t stop the reelection of George Bush. And if anything does stop Donald Trump from enjoying success in the midterms or winning again in 2020, it won’t be Fahrenheit 11/9.
Nevertheless, relevant or not, consistent or not, Michael Moore is still fighting and has released a passionate, moving and urgent piece of work. What it lacks in focus it makes up for in fierceness, and is an undeniably affecting watch wherever you fall on the political spectrum.
Movie Parliament Rating: MINORITY GOVERNMENT
By Movie Parliament Prime Minister,