Film Review: In “Fahrenheit 11/9,” Michael Moore Trumpets a Powerful Clarion Call to Action

Film poster: “Fahrenheit 11/9”

Fahrenheit 11/9 (Michael Moore, 2018) 3½ out of 4 stars.

A frequently effective, but often equally undisciplined filmmaker, Michael Moore has made his share of powerful indictments of the deep inequalities at the root of these United States, among them Roger & MeBowling for Columbine and Sicko (my favorites). Always at the center of his own stories, whether as subject, narrator, or both, Moore is as much his best asset as own worst enemy, sometimes not recognizing when enough is enough. He is also prone to reductive oversimplifications of complex issues, as in the nominally satirical Where to Invade Next, filled with lazy assumptions about the economic and political systems of other nations, citing single examples as stand-ins for the whole. Though he and I are ideologically simpatico, I regularly cringe when watching certain of his films, wishing he would do more than preach to the adoring choir. But when he is fully engaged in a topic, as he is with his latest work, then cinematic magic can happen.

Indeed, Fahrenheit 11/9 is everything its near-eponymous predecessor, Fahrenheit 9/11, wanted to be and couldn’t quite manage. Where that film chose facile barbs in lieu of carefully considered, insightful analysis, the new one is a sharp and probing visual essay and a rousing call to action for those who worry about American democracy. True, no one who unequivocally admires our 45thpresident will probably find his/her mind changed (though that’s always possible), but to everyone else, Moore’s documentary provides a well-documented condemnation of not only Donald J. Trump and his corrupt cronies, but of those who support him. Moore also persuasively argues that if we do not vote in the midterm elections of 2018 as if the future of our political system depends on it, then we might see the end of that system. Alarmist? Well, remember that “if you aren’t outraged, then you just aren’t paying attention.”*

Fahrenheit 11/9 starts two days prior to the date of its title, on November 7, 2016, as most everyone on the planet – including the Trump campaign – assume that Hillary Clinton will be the next president of the good ole US of A. From there, he walks us through what actually happened, his thoughts on why, and why very few people saw it coming (though Moore was one of the naysayers who warned of a Trump victory), who and what is culpable for the widespread voter disaffection that led to it being possible, and who and what is offering alternative ways forward to ensure that an authoritarian leader, only interested in self-aggrandizement and self-enrichment, is not allowed to hijack our country. As Moore knows well, we have never been more than an aspirationally egalitarian place, with a flawed voting system and deeply racist underpinnings of our institutional structures, yet he makes a solid case that the current administration and its backers pose a greater existential threat from within than anything, or anyone, before.

Michael Moore and Jared Kushner in happier times in FAHRENHEIT 11/9 ©Briarcliff Entertainment

I particularly loved the sections where we meet the next generation of politicians, running in opposition not only to the Republican party, but to the Democratic establishment (indicted here just as much as the GOP), as well. They hold the key, he believes, to renewed voter engagement. Among the ones he showcases are: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, in New York; Richard Ojeda, in West Virginia; and Rashida Tlaib, in Michigan. Energetic and engaged in their communities, they are all proudly progressive, with inspiring biographies that guarantee widespread appeal. More than Moore’s occasionally over-the-top polemics, it’s their voices that provide the most moving, hopeful chorus.

Despite the director’s love of theatrics (his stock in trade, after all), there is so much raw, disturbing material here that he almost need do nothing more than record. Whether he points his camera at the Flint Water Crisis, the violent set of military exercises in that same, beleaguered city, or any of the many creepy and ethically challenged actions of Mr. Trump, Moore reminds us of the dangers we face. There are even comparisons to Nazis, including some cleverly dubbed sequences from Leni Riefenstahl’s infamous Triumph of the Will, though since the director includes the testimony of scholars, as well as of the last surviving Nuremberg prosecutor, Ben Ferencz, they ring less hysterical, and therefore more frightening, than your average social-media meme.

Michael Moore spraying “Flint Water” in FAHRENHEIT 11/9 ©Briarcliff Entertainment

Unfortunately, despite its significant strengths, it’s not a perfect film, however powerful much of its material. Mr. Moore is who he is, after all, and has not miraculously developed perfect discipline since his last movie. Still, messy and rambling as certain parts remain, Fahrenheit 11/9 emerges, by the end, as a searing warning cry, to be heeded at all costs. Don’t just be afraid (though be that, too); vote.

*Quote from Lisa Borden, The Alphabet of Avoidance: Simple Solutions to Immediately Replace ‘Bad’ Habits with Something Better…or Even, Nothing at All.

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About chrisreedfilm

Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is lead film critic at hammertonail.com, an online magazine devoted to independent cinema; a regular film critic here at filmfestivaltoday.com; the host of Dragon Digital Media’s award-winning "Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed"; a film commentator for the "Roughly Speaking” podcast with Dan Rodricks at "The Baltimore Sun"; and the author of "Film Editing: Theory and Practice." In addition, he is one of three co-creators, along with Summre Garber of Slamdance and Bart Weiss of Dallas VideoFest, of "The Fog of Truth" (fogoftruth.com) – available on iTunes, SoundCloud and Stitcher – a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.
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