By John H. Foote
Michael Moore has made two documentaries using the letters 11/ 9 and 9/11. As he states, clearly, each represents one of the two worst happenings in the history of the United States. 9/11 of course represents September 11, 2001, the day terrorists attacked the USA in the form of passenger jets. They brought down the World Trade Center towers; hit the Pentagon while another was brought down in a field while headed for the White House. Thousands were killed in the attacks; many bodies have never been found and will not be. The passengers aboard United 93 fought back and over powered the terrorists, armed with box cutters, and the plane plunged to its doom in a lonely field on its way to Washington, D.C.
His film Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004) was a scathing attack on President George W. Bush and his presidency, (and stupidity) stunning the world with his information and insight, which given no one sued him must have been accurate. The film took the top prize at Cannes but was shockingly denied a nomination from the Academy. The year previous Moore had won for his film Bowling for Columbine (2003) and took the stage with a fiery attack on Bush and the invasion of Iraq which he declared a fictitious war. Cheers and boos erupted before he left the stage, and that no doubt had a bearing on why he was not invited back to the party with a second nomination. Fahrenheit 9/11 remains the highest grossing documentary ever made.
His new film, Fahrenheit 11/9 a clever twist on the title using the numbers which are the day Trump was elected President, is a crushing disappointment.
Knowing Moore, and we have met a few times, I expected, no I hoped for a full-fledged take down of Trump, a film that opened the door and pulled the skeletons out one by one for all to see. I thought Moore would have great fun with the fact Trump is a pathological liar, unable it seems to go a single day without lying to the American public and his staff, I thought Moore would be gleeful in his take down of this monster sitting in the White House.
Instead we have a doc that is scattered, all over the place, and a filmmaker who cannot seem to make his mind up what his film is all about. Moore has made some great films, Roger and Me (1998), Bowling for Columbine (2003) and the previous Fahrenheit 9/11 but this is among his weaker work, lacking clarity and focus. That said he does get some shots in.
His targets are not only Trump but Hilary Clinton, Barack Obama, the governor of Michigan and Trump crony Rick Snyder, and finally, Trump. One might think all roads of corruption lead to Trump, and they do, but the film is segmented, fractured, and poorly edited. Those connections are sometimes difficult to make.
Moore hones in on the issue with the water in Flint, Michigan, exploring in detail how the governor knowingly poisoned the water and has done nothing about it. This could have been an entire film on its own. Even when presented with ill children and the elderly, Snyder refused to act. Finally hope came in the form of Obama who flew to Flint to save the day. Or so the good citizens of Flint thought. Here was their man, their President, flying in to right a wrong. Instead Obama asked for a glass of water, did not drink it merely wet his lips and did nothing. NOTHING. Frustrated the people become angry and Moore takes it upon himself to attempt a citizen’s arrest of the governor at his offices. When that fails he fills a huge truck with the poisoned water and takes it to the governor’s mansion where he sprays the grounds with the horrible water. The man is original yet terrible showboat. Too often his films become about him, not the subject.
Then his attack moves to Hilary Clinton and how the Democratic Party bamboozled Bernie Sanders out of the nomination for President. Though he had clearly won several of the states she claimed, it was evident that there had been tampering, even lies about who had actually won the state to propel Hilary to the White House.
And then Trump. It is here Moore does good work. He opens the film on election night, and asks the question when Trump is declared President, “How the f%$# did this happen?” How indeed. There have always been comparisons to Hitler with Trump, that sense of Fascism and wanting a dictatorship. With shots of Hitler speaking but Trumps voice emerging or vice versa the impact is chilling. Worse are the shots of Trump with his hands all over the body of his daughter with whom he shares a close, creepy relationship. Knowing what we do about his thoughts on women the scenes with his child are among the most alarming I have ever seen. Most telling is a shot of the Trump family the night he became President, they do not look happy, they look positively terrified.
Trump never wanted the Presidency until he got a taste of power on television and realized that with power came the ability to do whatever he wanted him to do. He woke up one day and decided he wanted to run for President, he said everything the people wanted to hear, he attacked anyone in his path, he lied, he cheated, and low and behold he woke up President. He must have been terrified. But then that massive Trump ego kicked in and he started playing President.
This man is a fake President. This man is a fake human being.
He lacks the most basic of compassion; he has no empathy for anyone, and is a terribly narcissistic man.
“Our time is up” says Moore narrating the film, but up, meaning what? Is he just preaching to the masses with this film, saying everything we want to say, that deserves to be said, or is this a screaming cry for change, for this madness to end?
Though the film has many detours away from Trump, from election night to the shooting in Parkdale, where Moore was given unprecedented access to the kids and their headquarters, to the most recent nightmares that have not been announced today, the Trump presidency is a mockery of the office and all roads lead to Trump. He is not the cause of everything but he is doing nothing to improve the country, and in making enemies of the allies of the United States, what kind of mess is he leaving for whoever follows him to clean up? But then he has the answer for that.
“Lifetime presidency. What do you think about that” Trump is seen saying in the film.
My blood ran cold. I got chills.
Hitler wanted the very same thing.
In the end Fahrenheit 11/9 was not the film I wanted Moore to make, but it made some great points and painted Trump in the proper light.
Made with haste, it was announced in June and thrown together in the editing suites, grabbing news clips from CNN, Fox and the major networks. It lacks the originality of his previous films, that sense of Moore being a pest until he gets his answers, and it is the weakest edited of any film Moore has made. He did however get some shots in.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.