In the run up to the US presidential election in 2016, documentarian Michael Moore (Bowling for Columbine) wrote extensively on his blog how businessman turned reality TV star Donald J. Trump would likely win the election. And as we all know, to the distress/joy of many, Moore was proven right. What did he see that the I’m With Her crowd and the much of the media didn’t?
Despite what you may initially think, Fahrenheit 11/9 (the date Trump’s victory was confirmed), a sort of sequel to the Bush-baiting Fahrenheit 9/11, isn’t framed as a massive ‘I told you so’ by the Canadian filmmaker. Indeed, Moore quickly admits his relationship with Trump and of ‘sleeping with the enemy’. He admits that Trump’s son-in-law/now senior adviser Jared Kushner helped to fund publicity for Moore’s documentary, Sicko, the home release of which was coordinated by Trump’s former White House Chief Strategist, Steve Bannon. Back in those days, the film suggests, you could sort of ignore the Trump dynasty. And perhaps, Moore goes onto say, the Democrats did so at their own peril.
Starting with Trump’s official statement of entering the presidential race – which Moore half-jokingly blames on Gwen Stefani – Fahrenheit 11/9 traces the businessman’s successful campaign to the White House. Moore argues that it was Middle America’s indifference to him that really became his success. He was a joke, he was a clown, he was racist. And yet… For Moore, hindsight can be a killer. He shows that Trump’s deficiencies as a President have always been there hidden in plain sight. He has always been problematic, the filmmaker argues, his ‘crimes’ on display for everyone to see.
Using this as his springboard, Moore dives into the suggestion that Trump’s administration is symptomatic of a system that is completely broken. He sets his targets on previous presidents, such as Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, who were promised to be the next big thing, but still managed to toe the line when it came to certain issues so as not to rock the boat in the senate and potential voters. Trump, Moore shows, doesn’t care if the boat is sinking. The documentary also takes shots at America’s archaic electoral college, a process that makes the whole concept of ‘one person, one vote’ utterly superfluous. Dismantle the apathy, dismantle the outmoded and you’ll see the change you want, Moore states.
It’s powerful and emotive stuff, with Moore turning to stories of the poisoned water in Flint, Michigan, underpaid teachers in Virginia, the Parkland shooting, and how a crisis can spur people on to do bigger and better things. In fact, it’s probably Moore’s best film since Bowling for Columbine.
At times though, Moore runs away with himself, lessening the impact of his message. The documentary is a little over two hours and, honestly, it doesn’t need to be. A stunt involving Moore spraying down the house of the Governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder, with contaminated water feels like something he would have left on the cutting room floor in his TV Nation days.
Elsewhere, Moore’s usage of a montage to underline a Game of Thrones-style relationship between the current president and his daughter, Ivanka, feels cheap, clouding the point he was trying to make. When Moore hands a glass of Flint tap water to a government official who refuses to drink it, the point is made that it’s because they know it’s contaminated. However, it could just as easily be argued that no one is going to gulp down a liquid handed to them by someone barging into their place of work without introduction. It all simply feeds into the idea that Moore is the kind of liberal fantasist that the likes of Fox News and even Team America accuse him of being.
And it’s a shame, because Moore’s final message is what matters. Fahrenheit 11/9 is a rally call, stirring up dissent in the masses. Moore clearly fears that democracy as he knew it is about to die, and with 100 million registered voters refusing to actually do so at the last election, he may very well have a point. If Fahrenheit 11/9 makes you mad and want to make a change, then it’s fair to say Moore has done his job.
SCREEN REALM SCORE: ★★★☆☆
‘Fahrenheit 11/9’ will open in select Australian cinemas on November 1 and opened in the US on September 21.