This is the first Michael Moore movie that’s given me more pleasure than irritation. There’s a lot of powerful, compelling material to be had, and a delightful minimum of Moore’s usual confrontational, gimmicky shenanigans. So much so, in fact, that the couple of times he does go into his typical corner-the-powerful routine, it feels quite out of place and perfunctory.
In terms of humorous gimmicky skewering of Bush and his policies, frankly, I think Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” does a much better job, and they do it on a nightly basis. (I still get a laugh remembering their interviewer asking Don King, “Aren’t you afraid that by associating with the Republican Party, you’re bringing the taint of corruption to boxing?”)
“Fahrenheit” undercuts its own argument slightly with its early use of some cheap shots at Bush and his people. The montage of officials saying “Iraq” and “al Qaeda” is not a very convincing way to make the point. Worse, there are several scenes of Bush and his senior officials preparing for television or public appearances. I suppose the primping of the makeup and hair people is supposed to look frivolous and superficial, and Bush’s goofy facial expressions and silent gesticulations are supposed to make him look like a buffoon. But really, you could collect exactly the same kind of material on just about anyone who makes speeches in front of TV cameras on a regular basis. It has nothing to do with Bush as a president, and I found myself thinking, “Oh, come on, you can do better than that.”
Fortunately, the movie does do better than that. The cheap shots are mostly confined to the first 30 minutes or so of the movie, and after that there’s a lot of meat to chew on. There are plenty of disturbing, emotionally unsettling sequences. I knew full well I was being manipulated by a skilled filmmaker, but the manipulation worked nonetheless. Whether it’ll sway anyone’s vote, who knows, but it at least has a lot of people thinking seriously about what’s going on in the world, and that can’t be a bad thing. I agree with a lot of what it said, but not everything; even so, I appreciate the additional opportunity to think about why I agree or disagree.
Politics may have played a role in its strong showing at Cannes, but I have no beef with it winning the top prize on cinematic merit alone. The personal passion behind this movie is vividly obvious from start to finish, and even with its flaws it’s a fine example of political filmmaking.
One thing’s for sure: it pleases me greatly to see Disney’s face rubbed in this film’s sudden and extreme financial success. They were a bunch of spineless ninnies for refusing to let Miramax distribute it, and I hope their shareholders are foaming at the mouth over the millions of dollars of profits Disney was too timid to earn.