Film Review: Fahrenheit 11/9

Trump is just a symptom of the system, says Michael Moore, and he has the cure.
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President Donald J. Trump is front-and-center on the poster for Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 11/9. It’s the movie where he sometimes slips offstage.

And that’s deliberate.

Because Moore’s latest provocation isn’t simply two hours of Trump controversies, soundbites, gossip and rallies. (Although, of course, there’s some of all of that.) Don’t go in expecting to see much of Trump’s most polarizing speeches or outrageous tweets, either.

Don’t even expect an awful lot about the 2016 campaign. The infamous “Entertainment Tonight” tape? The payoffs to porn actresses and Playboy models? Not really an issue, as far as Moore’s movie is concerned. Russian interference, secret dossiers and shady meetings?

Moore doesn’t really care.

Because this isn’t a movie about how Trump got elected. It’s about why—and that’s a reason, Moore insists, that comes out of a pro-corporate direction that both parties have been taking since Bill Clinton decided it was a lot better to win an election as a secret Republican than it was to lose one as a genuine Democrat.

That’s Moore’s point of view, anyway, and mainstream liberal audiences may be a little taken aback by just how unapologetically radical his film is.

Because, while Fahrenheit 11/9—the title referencing both his 2004 hit Fahrenheit 9/11 and the day after the 2016 election—does mourn Hillary Clinton’s loss, it’s only because, in Moore’s eyes, she was the lesser of two evils. He still sees her as just another sellout who liked war and Wall Street. For that matter, he says, so was Barack Obama. (Moore’s a Bernie man, through and through.)

But even if you disagree with Moore, it’s hard not to admire his bravura filmmaking.

He finds interesting, passionate, out-of-the-ordinary people to interview—and then is smart enough to shut up, and let them fill the occasionally awkward empty spaces with stirring words. He unearths telling audio clips and great newsreel footage, and cuts them together in provocative ways, his montages forcing you to see familiar images in different contexts.

And—his saving grace—he has a sense of humor about himself. Sometimes it’s childishly prankish (this is a Moore movie with yet another scene of him showing up somewhere unannounced, and pretending to be surprised no one will meet with him). But it’s always genuine and often impressively self-critical, as he admits he himself once partied with Jared Kushner and tolerated “the Donald.”

Sometimes Moore’s passions overwhelm him. Even if Fahrenheit 11/9 isn’t meant to be about Trump per se, it often goes off on longwinded tangents, like an exploration of the horrendous health crisis in Moore’s old hometown of Flint, Mich.

And Moore’s still too susceptible to dog-whistle conspiracy theories—like a melodramatic sequence that, layering Bush-era audio over Third-Reich visuals, suggests the World Trade Center attack, like the Reichstag fire, was just an awfully convenient way for the fascists to seize power. Moore first whispered this in his original Fahrenheit movie and it’s not even worthy of your crazy uncle on Facebook, let alone a great filmmaker.

And Moore is a great filmmaker—even if his “documentaries” are really filmed op-ed pieces that often use innuendo or hyperbole to drive home their points.

This latest film isn’t the purely personal attack on Trump his fiercest opponents want right now. Nor is it, in any way, the sort of nostalgic salute to the Hillary campaign that her supporters might be needing. What is it, then? Well one thing it is not, Moore has insisted, is a film about “hope”—because hope is a passive thing.

No, this movie is a call to action. And one he hopes we’re all really listening to.