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Movie review: In ‘Fahrenheit 11/9,’ less would have been more for Moore

November 9, 2018

Michael Moore wants to save us from ourselves. It’s been his mission for a long time, a noble one, and it’s obvious he is sincere. But as a filmmaker, Moore needs to save himself from his worst indulgences, which undercuts his good work. His new film, “Fahrenheit 11/9,” showcases both the best and the worst of his filmmaking instincts.

“Fahrenheit 9/11” was about former President George W. Bush, and “Fahrenheit 11/9” is about President Donald Trump and the way the mainstream media, Democrats and the GOP function (or don’t function) around him. Moore makes clear the connection between media ratings, money and Trump’s election, starting off with a banger of an argument: that Trump’s news conference announcing his candidacy for office was merely a ploy to get a raise from NBC after learning Gwen Stefani made more money on “The Voice” than he did on “The Apprentice.” When he was fired, the campaign became real. Thanks, NBC.

But while Moore indicts the media for pandering to Trump for ratings, making a pretty penny off the reality show host’s stunts, he does the same thing in “11/9.” He cannot resist indulging in his own petty desires in the film, and you wish he had resisted such giggle-inducing montages, such as Trump’s election night party soundtracked to opera or laying Trump speeches over Leni Riefenstahl’s “Triumph of the Will.” It’s cheap, indulgent filmmaking, and frankly, it’s not funny, not even in a dark way.

But as much as Moore loves making fun of Trump any chance he gets, in “11/9” he has truly the knives out for Obama and establishment Democrats. Trump gets off easy compared to Pelosi and Obama, and Moore argues Trump is the force off chaotic evil necessary to burn the whole rotten system down. He shreds Democrat organizations to pieces while focusing on the new guard of leftist candidates like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. These segments, as well as sections on the teen survivors and activists of the Parkland school shooting, are uplifting and inspiring to the point of tears. But Moore quickly plunges us back into the darkness of Trump, ominously predicting an inevitable march toward Nazi Germany, likening the Reichstag fire to Sept. 11, in terms of the political ramifications.

Moore is at his best when he’s performing shoe-leather investigative documentary work. One of the sub-stories in the story-cluttered “11/9” follows the water crisis in Flint, Mich., Moore’s hometown and the setting of his first film, “Roger & Me.” Flint is Moore’s area of expertise, and he deftly explains how CEO-governor Rick Snyder’s business-style criminal tactics led to the never-ending deadly water crisis. He interviews victims and whistleblowers, and he stages stunts like hosing down the governor’s mansion with a Flint Water truck and attempting to make a citizen’s arrest. It’s biting, sharp and chilling, and it proves Moore could have made a truly powerful film about Flint.

However, Flint functions merely a canary in the coal mine in “Fahrenheit 11/9,” as a lynch pin of his argument that Trump is marching straight for autocracy, using Snyder as inspiration. It’s an argument that conjures up dread, the way much of the film is designed to do, to inspire action.

“Fahrenheit 11/9” is an emotional and intellectual roller coaster. Moore swings for the fences, as he usually does. But the film, done in Moore’s traditionalist maximalist style, is overblown and overstuffed with editorial indulgences. It’s clear that stylistically and structurally, less should be more for Moore.

Rated R for language and some disturbing material/images. Cast: Michael Moore, Donald Trump, Barack Obama, David Hogg, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes.

2.5 stars

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