A film review by Craig J. Koban October 3, 2018


2018, R, 125 mins.

A documentary written and directed by Michael Moore




According to director Michael Moore, America and its political party system is royally screwed.  

Early on in his latest documentary FAHRENHEIT 11/9 he plainly asks viewers one simple and blunt question about the current state of affairs in his home country: 

"How the fuck did this all happen?" 

How, indeed. 

Moore has made a career of out making documentaries the push buttons on multiple social/cultural/political ills - whether it take the form of attacking big business in ROGER AND ME, or gun violence in BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE, or universal health care in SICKO or, hell, even capitalism itself in CAPITALISM: A LOVE STORY - but in his latest film he seems even more fired up and angry than usual.  FAHRENHEIT 11/9 takes its title in reference to the day Donald Trump was elected president on November 9, 2016, but it's also a sly echo of Moore's famous documentary about the George W. Bush administration and 9/11, FAHRENHEIT  9/11.  To say that Moore's latest doc is an all out attack on the Trump administration would be putting it mildly, not to mention that one could say it's of the shooting at fish in barrel variety of subject matter.  But FAHRENHEIT 11/9 is a bit more ambitious with laying its finger wag of shame at multiple targets aside from Trump, which gives it a fairly democratic focus, even when, regrettably, the doc sometimes lacks overall cohesion and focus. 



But, dammit, Moore is in classic form here as an impassioned, bitter, and determined provocateur that does want to find out, in fact, how the fuck America got so bad.  To be fair, a lot of his frequently humorous tirades are definitely directed at Trump, but he also takes a rather multi-faceted approach in terms of looking at a series of other mitigating factors that allowed for Trump's unlikely rise to power, with his razor sharp satiric crosshairs pointed at both political parties (in his mind, the Democrats and Republicans have committed multiple egregious blunders over the years) and even he himself.  Beyond pointing out how flawed the whole political process has evolved over the years, Moore also rightfully casts a light on the tragedy of disenfranchised voters, who - through various forms of deplorable strife that I'll allude to in a bit - don't see much hope in a party system that doesn't have their back.  If anything, FAHRENHEIT 11/9 is sort of Moore's rallying cry to arms for all citizens to get out there, vote, and make their voices heard.   

Moore's doc opens by showing us the whole preamble to Election Day in 2016, when just about everyone with a pulse was predicting all out failure for Trump ever becoming president (Moore shows ample footage of political pundits on news programs sarcastically giggling at Trump's chances...and hysterically shows a charmingly smug George Clooney at a movie press conference stating "Trump will never become president").  We're then shown glimpses of Hilary Clinton's campaign headquarters, evoking a collective vibe of flawless victory before the final numbers ever came in.  Then the tallies start pouring in...and Trump starts taking key states...and looks of absolute euphoria in the pro-Clinton crowds start turning to teary-eyed anxiety.  Then, as history has already shown, shock ripped through the nation when Trump did win, albeit because of the electoral college, a system that Moore rather rightfully insists probably shouldn't even exist anymore, seeing as the popular vote is a better indicator of fair democratic system as to whom the people think should be in office.  And, yes, Clinton won the popular vote, as did Al Gore back in 2000. 

Moore then takes us on a journey of variables that allowed Trump's success, like a total failure of Clinton's campaign to visit key states, and, in one hysterical instance, even Gwen Stefani is propped up as a reason for Trump wanting to run in the first place, which is a head scratching stretch (Moore postulates that when Trump found out that NBC was paying her more for her program compared to what he was getting for The Apprentice that was the straw that broke the proverbial camel's back for him, which acted as a catalyst for his political aspirations).  Moore doesn't let up on the Trump character assassination front, though, as he persuasively paints a picture of the Commander-in-Chief that we're all pretty familiar with now: A loud mouthed bully with a loose grasp on history and the truth that also happens to have unhealthy hedonistic impulses and some questionable stances on minorities and immigrants.  Perhaps even creepier is a photo montage that Moore utilizes that displays, shall we say, less than fatherly love Trump has with his daughter Ivana as she was maturing into a woman.   

FAHRENHEIT 11/9 takes some interesting detours after this, perhaps most intriguingly back to Moore's birth town of Flint, Michigan, which has the horrible misfortune of having countless numbers of its citizens forever made sick by the contamination of their water supply, a process that was ostensibly supported and initiated by Governor Rick Snyder.  Flint used to get its clean water supply from Lake Huron, but then the Governor inexplicably decided to build an alternate pipeline that would change the town's supply coming from the rather toxically polluted Flint River.  Then, when people started growing ill, the former venture capitalist in Snyder conveniently declared a state of emergency and abruptly replaced the elected officials in charge with his own lackies...and this led to no change.  Despite all obvious medical signs that pointed at the severe dangers of the drinking water in Flint, Snyder wouldn't budge, but he did give one place in Flint the clean Lake Huron water back: The local automobile plant whose reliance on the tainted water was actually corroding their car parts on the assembly line.  It's all enough to make one sick. 

This Michigan Governor's actions are reprehensible enough, but Moore also fairly calls out his political heroes in the process too, like former President Obama, who pledged to come to Flint to fix this horrible situation once and for all, but only proceeded to use his appearance as a shady photo op to show him drinking - or maybe just putting his lips up to - a glass filled with Flint water while in front of the press' cameras and to the shock and dismay of those that hoped he'd be their savoir.  Moore's fist swinging indignation of Obama's handling of the Flint crisis is used to show how a climate began to form of how jaded voters felt ripped off by their political idols, leaving them feeling that their vote was of no consequence.  As a result, Moore also chastises blame for America's current predicament on the roughly 100 million people that didn't cast their ballot in the fall of 2016.  Moore doesn't let himself off of the hook either, especially when it comes to showing a TV show appearance he had with both Trump and Roseanne Barr in the 90s, during which time the filmmaking recounts that he played things too safely with the future president and naively didn't take much stock in his future political aspirations.  Rather ironically, Trump is shown in the show clip saying that he admires Moore as a filmmaker and hopes that he never makes a film about him someday. 

Moore's not done there, as his already crowded doc then segues into the plights of West Virginia teachers living below the poverty line and struggling to strike for better pay even when their unions advised them not to.  We then transition to the survivors of the Parkland School shootings and to a famous group of students who fearlessly organized the largest mass protest in U.S. history to admonish the current administration - and past ones as well - for their lack of leadership in dealing with gun control.  I think that this tangent most neatly ties into Moore's overall message here with FAHRENHEIT 11/9 to plead with ordinary Americans to stand up, take charge, springboard positive action with definable motives, and build towards meaningful change.  In short, get Albert Finney-esque in NETWORK mad as hell and don't settle in on taking it anymore.  One of the sadder undercurrents to the doc is the notion that Americans have become so numbed into pathetic complacency and, as a result, have lost such confidence in the ineffectual party system that people like Trump being elected into office is hardly surprising.  That, and it has become alarmingly simple for millions of voters to turn a blind eye to his corruptions, mostly because they're so many people out there that simply don't give a damn.  If you're from Flint, as Moore informs us, and your children have become poisoned by a fixable water contamination issue that multiple politicians refuse to fix...what hope do you have moving forward? 

FAHRENHEIT 11/9, as already mentioned, misses the mark of achieving the true greatness of Moore's early documentaries in terms of its frustratingly scattershot approach.  Too often, Moore hops back and forth from one subject to the next a bit too arbitrarily and it takes an awfully long time for him to tie everything together to create a unifying whole.  On top of that, some of his choices here seem desperate and ill advised, like a lengthy diatribe as to how Trump's administration is evolving considerably like Adolf Hitler's, which seems needlessly extreme and frankly out there, even by Moore's standards (there is, though, a brilliant juxtaposition of Moore showing a Hitler rally that's dubbed in with Trump's voice from one of his own rallies).  I also thought that the whole section featuring Flint would have made a thoroughly riveting documentary all on its own and served as a direct sequel to ROGER AND ME.  Perhaps FAHRENHEIT 11/9 had too much it wanted to say for one two hour feature and, as a negative consequence, it results in stifled momentum that could have been fixed with more editorial discipline.  

Still, FAHRENHEIT 11/9 remains as compulsively watchable as any of Moore's best docs because, deep down, it tackles a variety of issues that he's deeply invested in, and his rabble rouser/grass roots appeal to get everyday people to get off their asses and do something to fix his country has universal appeal to just about any troubled nation.   After all, in Moore's mind, if we don't vote and make our vote matter and instead just sit idly by and let elected officials do what they want at the expense of the little people...then we're all truly fucked. 

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