Michael Moore is more of a provocateur than a documentarian. He wants to spur conversation and cares more about that than outlining a fact-driven narrative. He likes being flashy, even if it means being fallacious. He likes being a figurehead of radical liberal reform.
This doesn’t mean that he’s a radical. He isn’t a hack. He isn’t a showman, per se. He clearly has a passion for everything he sets his eyes on—with Fahrenheit 11/9 this passion comes in the form of intense frustration. I’ll admit, I agree with some of his political agenda as outlined in this film. And yet, Fahrenheit 11/9 is a mess.
It is a film about the 2016 presidential election, how we got there, and where democracy is headed from here. Some pretty intensive subject matter. It could fill hours of a documentary series. But, somehow, Moore cannot keep his attention centered on this dense material.
Sure, he links the Flint water crisis to the election of Donald Trump. Barack Obama’s 2016 visit there to assure residents that everything was under control is depicted as a seemingly direct cause of Trump winning Michigan, a pivotal swing state (of several) that helped him win the presidency. At face value it sounds compelling, but it is a through-and-through flimsy series of connections that attempts to tie in a cause of immense importance to Moore back to his larger thesis. What would have made more sense was a feature length doc on Flint, but I guess that wouldn’t come off as buzz-worthy.
When not honing on on his home state of Michigan, Moore bounces frantically around the country to find seeds of fury from which to condemn the current state of U.S. democracy. Superdelegates. The electoral college. The Parkland shooting. Despotic comparisons. Harassing media anchors.
One could pick apart the argumentation in each segment, but it would ultimately be unhelpful. Like the presidency Moore despises, he moves from talking point to talking point at a pace where it becomes difficult to scrutinize. It feels like a smokescreen. This structure is a shame when Moore lands on a topic worthy of conversation. Instead of truly expounding, dissecting issues to the point of meaningful examination, he glibly moves on in his pursuit of a portrait of a nation on fire.
If you agree whole-heartedly with Moore’s politics, get ready to be angered with him. If you disagree, prepare to be angered at him. Either way, Moore wins. He wants viewers to be rattled. He wants to provoke. He is so blinded by this pursuit that he doesn’t care what is cohesive or structurally sound about the narrative. Yes, there is plenty to be angry about in 2018. In fact, there is always something to be angry about, regardless of year. Condensing two years of anger into one two-hour chunk of time does not solve any problems. It does not advance discourse. All it does is stir the pot.
It is more harm than good. Moore is so concerned about preaching to the choir that I don’t think he realizes this. In a point in time defined by political contention and division, making more comparisons to Hitler does nobody a service. The Flint water crisis is important. The Parkland shooting was important. Teacher strikes are important. The midterm elections are important. Dedicating a scant 10-20 minutes on each topic is a disservice to important topical concerns. Even for an outspoken partisan filmmaker playing to his base.
The thesis of Moore’s film is “How the f**k did this happen?” in response to Donald Trump being elected president of the United States. He knows the answer to that question is in the people who voted for the man. He could have sought out the perspective of those who felt compelled to vote for Trump. Instead, he rings the death knell of American democracy and sprays Flint water onto Governor Rick Snyder’s driveway. At least Moore gets one thing right: politics is a spectacle.
Fahrenheit 11/9: D+
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)