By: Will Ashton (Three Beers) –
Be forewarned: This review is going to get pretty political. Sorry, but I don’t think there’s any way you can talk about a Michael Moore film and not discuss politics. Even at MovieBoozer, some things get political…
With that out of the way, let’s put up the temperature more than a little bit and talk about Fahrenheit 11/9, the new film from controversial writer/director Michael Moore. You have been sufficiently warned.
In many ways, it makes sense to house the controversial political documentarian’s latest work in 2018. The man who made himself one of the most successful documentary directors ever with his scathing looks at gun control, the health care system, capitalism, the unethical business practices of General Motors, and, of course, the first term of George W. Bush’s presidency is bound to have more-than-a-few things to say about our current U.S. President, Donald J. Trump. It was a given that Michael Moore would make a movie about the ill-tempered, heavily-discoursed subject, a.k.a. the perpetual source of loud arguments and bitter feelings aplenty with your extended relatives. In fact, Moore already did make a movie about Donald Trump, technically, with 2016’s little-seen fight for residence, Michael Moore in TrumpLand.
Harkening back to his most profitable film to date, Fahrenheit 9/11, Fahrenheit 11/9 was a given. It was going to come to a theater near you, whether or not anyone — Republican, Democrat, or in-between — wanted to see it. You knew it was going to be coming out eventually. It was a foregone conclusion, this film. Especially in an election year. Of course, Michael Moore is angry. Of course, Michael Moore was set to return. Of course, Michael Moore was going to make a long, angered, unabashed takedown of Mr. Trump.
But here’s the thing: What does Michael Moore have to say about our recent politics that hasn’t been said?
That was the million dollar question. While we all knew that Michael Moore would come out swingin’ in 2018, it wasn’t clear what the famously partisan filmmaker would add to the public discourse that isn’t already swimming in the vortex of our daily reality. What would Moore tell us, in these extremely divided times, that isn’t already clear? That isn’t already speculated on, again and again, on Twitter, on cable news, on the million other sources of news — fake and/or otherwise — that exist in our Internet age?
The answer is, understandably, blurred. Michael Moore has a ton of things to say in Fahrenheit 11/9. In fact, one could argue that the director has a bit too much to say in his latest documentary, which pushes well past the two-hour mark and results in what can sometimes be a fascinating film and what can sometimes be a lumbering, tedious one too. Moore’s thesis can be rambling, unfocused, and filled with tangents that only sometimes relate to the broad, orange, poorly hair-styled subject that’s at the forefront. But at its best moments, it results in some of Moore’s most powerful, accomplished, assured, and compelling filmmaking ever — let alone in the past 14 years since Fahrenheit 9/11 came out in 2004.
Fahrenheit 11/9 is arguably the most Michael Moore movie that Michael Moore has made yet. But in many ways, it also sees the documentarian working against expectations. For instance, it finds the filmmaker pointing the blame at Democrats, including Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama, to make a film that tries its best to answer the question that has been nagging in (nearly) everyone’s mind since the election results on November 8th, 2016: how the fuck did this happen? And to be a little less profane, how exactly did Donald J. Trump end up the 45th President of the United States of America?
There are no clear answers, as made evident by this sprawling, chaotic and uneven film. But Michael Moore does his best to give his thesis on the matter anyway. It results in a film that’s intriguing, at least.
There’s a lot to appreciate in Fahrenheit 11/9. There are several moments where Michael Moore is proving to the audience why he is one of the most accomplished and well-recognized filmmakers in his profession. As you might expect, Fahrenheit 11/9 is often at its best whenever it is focused on the parts that hit closest to home for Michael Moore. Specifically, the Flint Water Crisis, Michigan’s deathly dilemma that continues to be an imperative issue/injustice for the residents of Flint, Michigan (Moore’s hometown) to this day. It is in these moments when Moore focuses intently on the devastated citizens of Flint, MI, that have been impoverished and endangered by the careless, inhumane practices of Michigan’s government, that Fahrenheit 11/9 is truly at its most enthralling, enraging and, more than anything else, heartbreaking.
In fact, it’s often made unclear why Michael Moore simply didn’t make a movie about the Flint Water Crisis in the first place. There’s no denying that, if that were the central subject, Fahrenheit 11/9 would be Michael Moore’s most personal, unflinching, distressing, (rightfully) infuriating, and invigorating film yet. It would likely take the throne from Bowling for Columbine, which (in this writer’s opinion) remains the writer/director’s most impactful, powerful, shocking, maddening, and tragically relevant movie to date. It would be the movie that would have been the build-up to everything Michael Moore has done to this date.
Alas, Fahrenheit 11/9 isn’t focused squarely on this particular subject, likely because (as it was stressed earlier) everyone and their Minion meme-sharing aunt on Facebook expected Michael Moore to make a movie about Donald Trump. And he delivered on those expectations. In part, at least. When Fahrenheit 11/9 does focus on the Cheeto reminiscent man currently occupied inside 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, it has a lot of things to say — and you can bet your bottom dollar that everything it says is very negative. But Moore is also critical of a lot of different conversation starting points in his newest documentary, and it’s a credit to the filmmaker who is often known to stand in front of the camera and spout out his opinions that he mostly focuses his attention away from himself and (generally) his viewpoints to give his assessment of the country’s current failings, how we got to this tumultuous point, and provide teeny-tiny bouts of hope.
Fahrenheit 11/9 gives you a whole lot to think about and discuss in a little more than two hours. Nobody should be leaving this new movie empty-handed. It’ll provoke a reaction — one way or another. But then there’s the question of Michael Moore’s general thesis. Mainly, is Michael Moore really focused in his rant?
There are multiple moments in Fahrenheit 11/9 where Michael Moore starts to lose focus on his objective. That’s not to say that he loses sight of what he wants to say; his intentions mainly stay clear throughout the whole feature. But there are several times throughout Moore’s documentary where he shifts topic points, bringing up different points of view that would’ve been appropriate in a 2016 documentary but now feel outdated, untimely, and perhaps unneeded. This stuff tends to bog down Fahrenheit 11/9.
For instance, there’s a prolonged segment about the injustices of the Democratic National Committee on Bernie Sanders. While I don’t disagree with what he is saying (I was a Bernie Sanders supporter leading up to the nomination), it doesn’t really add much to his general thesis beyond “Hey, don’t forget, Democrats can be really shitty too!” And that’s fair. As someone who considers themselves a Democrat (at this point in time), I’ll be the first to admit that we have a slew of issues with the DNC, and we are far from perfect as a national political party. It’s hard to argue otherwise, honestly. But this segment feels unwarranted in a commentary on Trump’s America, truthfully. Like, yeah, it would’ve been nice if Bernie Sanders were able to really stick it to Donald Trump and go face-to-face with him on the ballot. But that didn’t happen, and while we’re probably left to suffer for that injustice, we kinda need to move on too.
Furthermore, Fahrenheit 11/9 will talk about everything from Gwen Stefani to the Parkland survivors to comparisons between the rise of Adolf Hitler and the means through which Donald Trump became the president of the United States. There are a lot of compelling things Michael Moore has to say about each individual topic, but when you look at the whole picture, it can be a bit jagged and all over the damn place. Had Moore sat down and really focused on what he wanted to say, or if he made Fahrenheit 11/9 into a mini-series and spent an episode on each rambling topic, it might’ve been more effective in its approach. But as a feature film, it can be a lot of content, and it leaves the viewer a bit exhausted.
As I mentioned earlier, Fahrenheit 11/9 is a disorderly film. It doesn’t have a proper sense of structure. Therefore, there is a general listlessness to the documentary that makes it a bit unseemingly at times. It can run for long periods of time about a random barrage of topics, and it’s hard to know when it is going to be tied up tidily by the end. There are, like, five endings in this film, and there comes a point near the end of the movie where you’re left to wonder, “When exactly is this movie going to end, Michael Moore?”
Because as you are sitting in the theater, it can feel like it’s running for an entirety. And I cut the man a bit of slack because he has a lot of ground to cover. But that comes back to one of my earlier points: if he had so much to say, why didn’t he just make it into a mini-series? Why didn’t he just got to HBO, present his footage, and ask them if they would give him the opportunity to tell his story in full? I believe Fahrenheit 11/9 would’ve been more presentable if he was given the chance to tell his story in this particular fashion.
Fahrenheit 11/9 is a messy, occasionally discombobulated documentary from Michael Moore. And yet, it kinda needed to be. These are difficult times, and there are no easy explanations for what happened to us. Moore’s thesis might not be focused, but the veteran documentarian has a bunch to say. He says a lot of those things pretty powerfully, too. If you are a fan of the director, you’ll probably know what you are going to get here, and I don’t believe the results will be disappointing for his loyal, longtime fans. But there is a nagging sense that he could’ve told this story better in a cleaner, leaner film that was more concentrated and had a better idea of what exactly it wanted to say during these very divided times.
Fahrenheit 11/9 (2018) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time Michael Moore changes subjects.
Take a Drink: every time you remember just how royally fucked we are right now. (Be mindful.)
Take a Drink: every time you made to look at Donald Trump’s orange face.
Take a Drink: every time things start to get a little too depressing and alcohol is your dearest friend.