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Movie Review: ‘Fahrenheit 11/9’ is Most Valuable When Michael Moore Cedes the Spotlight

CREDIT: State Run Films/Briarcliff Entertainment

Starring: Michael Moore, Donald Trump, Rick Snyder

Director: Michael Moore

Running Time: 120 Minutes

Rating: R for Gross Insinuations About the State of the Nation

Release Date: September 21, 2018

Michael Moore is incorrigible, but as Fahrenheit 11/9 demonstrates, he has actually mellowed a bit. Or maybe it just seems that way because the political status quo has shot way past his default incendiary mode. His starting point is the election of Donald Trump as the 45th United States president, with Moore intoning, “Was it all a dream?” The initial moments recapping election night then play out like sports highlights that will have certain viewers entertaining the possibility that there could somehow be a different outcome this time. Moore, unsurprisingly, has no interest in treating Trump as legitimate in any way, and he gives into his corniest impulses in the opening section, overlaying opera numbers over footage of Trump’s campaign events and election celebration.

But the real subject of this documentary is not Trump so much as it is America in the wake of its current leader’s rise and reign. The moments that resonate the strongest come when Moore cedes the spotlights to the people he is championing, i.e., the rising voices in a leftist populist uprising. This includes first-time Democratic Congressional candidates fighting back against a rigid party machine, folks like New York’s 28-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, West Virginia’s defiantly blue collar Richard Ojeda, and Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib (who could become the first Muslim elected to Congress).  Also spotlighted are the Parkland student gun control activists (whose efforts have already resulted in real electoral results) and striking public school teachers in West Virginia and throughout the country, who have defied threats of retribution, including potential imprisonment.

A huge chunk is devoted to the water crisis in Moore’s native Flint, Michigan. There is frankly enough material here for a separate, entirely Flint-focused doc. Despite public assurances to the contrary, health experts are still warning that the city’s drinking supply is poisoned with lead, but their concerns have been hidden by a massive cover-up. Moore makes no bones about his belief that Michigan Governor Rick Snyder deserves criminal consequences for this scandal, and in the film’s most memorable stunt, he shows up to the governor’s residence to attempt to carry out a citizen’s arrest. Moore’s ire is also directed at the Democratic establishment, and we see the most damning example of that in the Flint segment, when President Obama makes a much-maligned, devastatingly gimmicky appearance to assuage concerns about the water crisis. Here we see laid bare the limits of hope that alienated a good portion of the country in the past decade.

Moore concludes everything by comparing Trump’s fascistic tendencies to the rise of Hitler in 1930s Germany. The parallels are viscerally frightening: scapegoating of ethnic groups, bullying of the media, condemnation of athletes for their lack of loyalty, etc. It’s hard to argue with the case that Moore is making here, but he does hit the apocalyptic button a little too hard. If he wants people to take action upon seeing this film – and I believe he does – then it’s better to end on a note of actionable hope than one of hopeless devastation.

Fahrenheit 11/9 is Recommended If You Like: Michael Moore’s Filmography, Leftist populism, Labor unions

Grade: 3 out of 5 Political Rookies

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