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Review: Fahrenheit 11/9 (2018)

Fahrenheit 11/9 (2018)

Directed by: Michael Moore

Premise: A documentary about the election of Donald Trump to the Presidency and an examination of the state of democracy in the United States.

What Works: Fahrenheit 11/9 is a Michael Moore documentary and it is his best film since 2007’s Sicko. Recent events seem to have rekindled Moore’s passion and ambition in a way that was absent from Where to Invade Next and Slacker Uprising and Moore’s righteous indignation drives this documentary. Although Donald Trump frames the movie, Fahrenheit 11/9 is not so much about the forty-fifth President of the United States but rather about the state of the nation. And as in Moore’s best work, he measures that through the lives of people in Flint, Michigan. The most powerful sequence in Fahrenheit 11/9 recounts the Flint water crisis. As explained in the film, Michigan governor Rick Snyder and the state legislature passed an emergency manager bill that effectively ended democratic representation in Flint and replaced local officials with a political appointee. Flint’s emergency manger switched the city’s water source from Lake Huron to the Detroit River and the contaminated water subsequently poisoned the citizens of Flint, creating a public health crisis that still hasn’t been resolved. The Flint sequence, the longest in the film, is heartbreaking and enraging and it effectively and substantively illustrates Moore’s point – that the establishment is trending away from democracy at the peril of the citizenry. The second most impactful aspect of Fahrenheit 11/9 is the way it dissects what went wrong on the political left. The film’s portrait of the Democratic Party is especially severe, characterizing the party as given over to corporate interests and hostile to grassroots progressives. One of the most surprising moments in Fahrenheit 11/9 is a sequence of President Barack Obama visiting Flint during the water crisis and ultimately letting the community down. Moore’s willingness to sacrifice a Democratic idol cuts through the partisanship and in the process he inspires viewers to take on the power structure.

What Doesn’t: The Flint segment and the sequences of grassroots activism are the best moments of Fahrenheit 11/9 and they are some of the strongest filmmaking in all of Moore’s movies. Unfortunately, Fahrenheit 11/9 also showcases some of Moore’s self-defeating tendencies. When he gets up to his wacky shtick, like dousing the Michigan governor’s mansion with contaminated Flint tap water, it’s out of tune with the gravity of what’s come before it. The sequences about Donald Trump aren’t so impactful partly because they don’t reveal anything new about the President but also because Moore’s character assassination devolves into conjecture and insinuation. That’s most evident in a segment in which Moore all but proclaims that President Trump has a sexual relationship with his oldest daughter. It is as though Moore is just throwing whatever he can at Trump rather than making a cogent and relevant attack on the President’s character. The same is true in the ending in which Moore compares contemporary America to 1930s Germany, suggesting that Donald Trump is some equivalent to Adolf Hitler. Moore is not the first to make the comparison and he makes it better than most but it’s still an inappropriate and hysterical charge that doesn’t help the film’s credibility.

Bottom Line: Fahrenheit 11/9 is a mixed effort. As an argument it is uneven and like a lot of Michael Moore’s movies it preaches to the converted. But that’s Moore’s purpose. Fahrenheit 11/9 is intended to galvanize the anti-Trump movement and move them to action. Viewers who are disposed to its message will probably find it inspiring.

Episode: #718 (September 30, 2018)