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Farenheit 9/11: a Review
by david   June 28, 2004
temple, elemental, evil

Fahrenheit 9/11 is a movie for everyone, and I mean everyone, over the age of 15. Not everyone will like it, not everyone will agree with it, but everyone should see it.

For many people, F9/11 will be a revelation -- much of what is here are the sides of an almost 4-year story that the mainstream media doesn't tell. They'll learn about the Bush administration's complicated relationship with the Middle East, and the Saudis in particular. They'll learn about Congress and the Patriot Act. They'll learn about what's going on in Iraq, in rural and small-town America in response to Iraq, what Homeland Defense and the War on Terror really mean, and who really has influence in issues of Defense, the State and International Affairs.

But, even for someone who keeps abreast of political and world issues, who reads the official and alternative versions of what's going on today, F9/11 is an important film. Movies can crystallize ideas in ways that no book or article or blog can. In seeing what's going on, not in abstract, not in your mind's eye, but on-screen -- real life, recorded in startling, furious color and sound -- these ideas have a visceral impact. A film like this can take you from thinking an idea to really, truly feeling that idea; from intellectual acknowledgment to passion.

The importance of this movie aside, is it any good? The answer is, yes, absolutely. I'm a fan of Moore's movies, and I think this might be the best of them (my previous favorite was the Big One, though they are all varying degrees of awesome). I think the reason is Moore's restraint -- the subject matter in F9/11 drives itself so well, and the emotion is so high, that Moore doesn't need to guide it, to provoke it, the way he has done in previous films. Unlike in Bowling for Columbine or Roger & Me or the Big One, Moore is behind the camera for the vast bulk of this film. There is much voice-over narrative, but he's seldom on screen. Frankly, for much of the film, his presence isn't needed -- his pointing the camera in the right direction is enough.

F9/11 opens with election day in 2000, and spends some time with that most controversial transfer of power in our nation's history. He lingers just long enough on Bush's first eight months in office to remind us what was happening in that clumsy time, and then moves to 9/11/2001. With surprising deft, he balances a sincere compassion for the victims and their families with a very detailed (and damning) look at the relationship between the Bush family and administration and the Saudi royal family and the Bin Ladens. After 9/11 and the Saudi/Bush education, he moves onto the initial aftermath, and the invasion of Afghanistan. But where the film really takes off is with the examination of our build to war in Iraq, and Bush's transformation into a war president. Most powerful (and gut-wrenching) is the documentation of the effects of the Iraq war on the lives of regular people. Here, Moore as a character nearly disappears, and we are launched on an emotional white-water with an ex-marine, the mother of an Army volunteer, and others. Again, for many of us, nothing here is new, but seeing it laid so bare, so human, is startling and dreadful. Do not be surprised when the tears come.

Moore has become a mature and powerful editorialist (which, by the way, is what he is -- not a "documentarian"), and his storytelling ability, especially when he's proving a point using such rich source material, is enviable. He's not without his faults -- his examination of Bush and the Saudis, while a clearly important piece of the 9/11 & Iraq puzzle, is sometimes too dry and almost too detailed, and throws off the movie's rhythm. And the "what was GWB thinking?" device, while a clever way to introduce the Saudi/Bin Ladin connection and the Bush team's history, seems sometimes overly malicious. The most damning moments, for Bush, are found in his own speech, or when a frustrated, disillusioned soldier calls him a fool. The "GWB thinking" bit feels just a little out of step with the mood of the rest of the film.

However, none of this detracts too greatly from the overall quality of F9/11. As I said, not everyone will agree with Moore's obvious position and opinions, but nearly everyone will be impassioned enough by them to at least engage in debate (for or against), and that's the ultimate aim of a film such as this -- to get people involved, to get them to (in Moore's own words) "do something." Especially in an election year, when issues like women's rights and religious freedoms and social welfare and our international relationships perch precariously on a cliff's edge, a film like this is of extreme importance. But, even after November 2004 has come and gone, Fahrenheit 9/11 will remain a damn fine movie, and an important piece of cinematic, and political, history.

Do yourself a favor: go see it, and take someone, maybe someone who might not have gone otherwise, with you.


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