Crusading documentary filmmaker Michael Moore explores the 'fixing' of the 2000 presidential elections, the Bush family's links with Saudi Arabia and the aftermathof the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center…
If the devil's greatest trick was to convince mankind he didn't exist, Michael Moore went one better, convincing us that he was the most dangerous man in the universe on the basis of just six reels of film. Fahrenheit 9/11 arrived in Cannes as the most incendiary movie ever made. Disney forced Miramax to drop it! It didn't have a US distributor!
The small print told a different story. Miramax knew from Day One that Disney's governing board couldn't release such a partisan film in election year. And as for the reason why it didn't have a distributor: could it simply have been down to the fact that Miramax was kicking up a fuss, exaggerating the need to see it and hiking up the price accordingly?
Moore's previous film, Bowling For Columbine, didn't exactly bode well; after a terrific first hour it slipped slyly into an ego trip, culminating in staged footage of Moore confronting the National Rifle Association's confused spokesman, Charlton Heston, in his own home. That's not journalism, that's just plain rude, so how would Moore face down the President of the United States? Walk up to the White House and shit on his doorstep, while waving a big sign that says, "YOU ARE A C**T"?
Fortunately, Moore is smarter than that. Fahrenheit 9/11 reveals in its first moments that he has become much more comfortable with his materials and that he knows very well his grinning mug isn't enough to swing this one. So for the bulk of its running time Moore acts mostly as a simple narrator, relishing his own scathing prose as he spins a yarn very similar to the opening chapters of last year's bestseller, Dude Where's My Country? And it's here that the film works best; piling up facts and figures that paint an uncanny picture of a war based on a lie propagated by a regime founded on an injustice.
The figurehead for this is George W. Bush, portrayed as a simpleton playboy groomed for the job by his old man's cronies. For Moore, this is exquisite payback for a moment when he and Bush came face-to-face for the first and only time. "Behave yourself, will you?" sneered Bush. "Go find real work." And so much of this film is Moore's sarcastic reply. Real work? Like being declared President after a rigged election, decided in a state governed by your brother, then spending the first 42 per cent of your initial eight months in office on holiday? It's a testimony to Dubya's idiocy that Moore doesn't have to try too hard to make him look inept.
Moore's greatest achievement is the handling of 9/11 itself, rendered on a black screen with sound effects, followed by reaction shots of the stunned crowds nearby. He doesn't milk it, leaving you to your own revulsion at the sight of Bush sitting helplessly in a Florida schoolroom for a full seven minutes after the second plane hit the World Trade Center. This is the film's smoking gun; the unforgettable moment. After this it wavers somewhat, sidetracking itself with the vagaries of the War On Terror before settling on Iraq and the human rights abuses there.
Showmanship it may be, and in the wake of the Al Ghraib prison scandal, the anti-war lobby is not so hard to impress, but this is still passionate filmmaking with a strong, idiosyncratic voice. It may not pose all the questions or find all the answers, but it's hard to deny Moore its right to be seen right here, right now.
Arguably not the most proficiently crafted film in Cannes this year and certainly not the most balanced, but Moore's assault on the Bush administration is a terrific polemic. It's sprawling at times, but still uncomfortable, angry viewing in a time when apathy and resignation rule.