Acclaimed and polarizing documentary filmmaker Michael Moore has inspired and infuriated audiences for thirty years. Moore’s rhetoric, bluster, and employment of facts have been called into question in the past by his critics, but unlike some of his left and right-wing peers, he generally doesn’t speak recklessly. Moore is passionate, but collected and lays his arguments out like an essay writer and then backs them up point by point — with a steady helping of comedic zingers. The documentarian’s latest film, “Fahrenheit 11/9” calls out the hypocrisy rooted in American democracy and the picture uncovers some devastating findings. Throughout the movie, he serves up a slew of verifiable stats, credible witnesses, and video footage meant to call the current democratic system into question. Of course, it’s subjective, one-sided and uneven, but “Fahrenheit 11/9” is angry and one of Moore’s most effective films in years.
Love him or hate him, no one can argue that Donald Trump isn’t a pop culture vortex. Like a black hole, he sucks newspaper coverage, TV news segments, and even coffee shops conversations into his intense gravity. After a year of the president’s tumultuous administration, some civically-minded voters developed political apathy and “Fahrenheit 11/9” aims to rekindle viewers’ burnt-out bullshit receptors. Moore uses humor to explain what lead the country into democracy’s version of The Upside Down. He begins with Hillary Clinton’s shocking loss in 2016 and then looks at the incidents that shook American politics loose from its foundation. The film dives into the Flint, Michigan’s water crisis (Moore’s hometown which gives him an edge) the ascension of Bernie Sanders, and the grassroots movements behind Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Parkland survivors.
Few filmmakers can produce a documentary as wrenching as “Fahrenheit 11/9” while also keeping people laughing all the way through. Moore deftly mixes hope and heartbreak in a soul-stirring blend guaranteed to have people talking. The filmmaker inserts himself into most of the film (naturally), either as narrator or in front of the camera in his infamous, sometimes grating, role as man of the people. As an onscreen presence, he’s as charismatic as they come, with a razor-sharp wit and a keen understanding of what resonates with his audience. The film brings case after case of political corruption to light and each time things seem to reach rock bottom; it uncovers a new low. Moore punctuates these crushing moments with reasons for optimism, always guiding viewers back to the light before the darkness overtakes them. “Fahrenheit 11/9” explains why hope is overrated, but it never stops singing the praises of change.
This filmmaker’s boisterous personality often overshadows his technical precision behind the camera. “Fahrenheit 11/9” is a masterclass in using music and editing to affect people on a visceral level. Moore is Scorsese-like with his ability to use music to set the tone of a scene. His musical choices may be on the nose, but they’re still affecting. Early on, the music switches from the poppy “Fight Song” to a brooding operatic score more appropriate for when Emperor Palpatine ascends his throne. While the rest of the film’s musical cues are more subversive, they’re always present and effective, tying knots around heartstrings and waiting for the perfect moment to jerk them. And enhancing each bold image is the picture’s tight editing. Moore knows when to use a snappy juxtaposition to prove a point or when to linger on someone’s awkwardness after they’re caught in a lie.
The elephant in the room is the director’s status as a liberal icon. These days it feels like liberals and conservatives live in two conflicting realities, and at a glance, this film is preaching to his left-leaning choir. Although Moore makes sure to eviscerate Trump early on, he doesn’t hold back on the Democrats either. Instead, “Fahrenheit 11/9” deconstructs the rot eating away at the entire democratic system. The documentary goes after Bill Clinton, the electoral college, and the Democratic party’s patron saint, Barack Obama. For better or worse, this leftist filmmaker doesn’t hesitate to point out that there are terrible people on both sides.
The way Moore sees it, America exists in a perpetual state of a king of the hill. The haves claims their places at the top of the mountain and joins forces to keep the have-nots and everyone else beneath their heels. If it sounds simplistic, it can be, but it’s also tremendously stirring. “Fahrenheit 11/9” screams out that the game is rigged and aims to bring all the double standards, unfair advantages, and unabashed corruption to light. An angry, provocative conversation starter designed to shake viewers loose of their political indifference and inspire them to take up the charge, the rousing picture deserves to sit at the table recognized as one of Moore’s best work. [A-]