Fahrenheit 11/9 (United States, 2018)

September 22, 2018
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Fahrenheit 11/9 Poster

At one point in his career, Michael Moore made insightful movies – smart, thought-provoking films that explored often-polarizing subjects. Then, at some point after his 2002 documentary, Bowling for Columbine, Moore became more interested in rabble-rousing and propagandizing than making compelling material. His films became unfocused and amorphous as he raged against a series of predictable bogeymen and rehashed the same subjects. Little has changed between 2004’s Fahrenheit 9/11 and 2018’s similarly-named Fahrenheit 11/9. In his latest diatribe, Moore throws everything at the viewer including the kitchen sink and hopes something – anything – will stick. Sadly, not much does.

Of course, Moore is preaching to the choir (as the saying goes), marinating his facts in liberal ideology so strong that only someone far left of center would agree with every point he makes. Moore never much cared about providing a fair and balanced view of his subjects and he has long since given up trying to persuaded open-minded viewers to see things through his eyes. At least politically, he’s an angry man and there’s a sense that he may believe himself to be more influential than he actually is. Moore has never been camera shy. In his first foray into documentary filmmaking, Roger and Me, he was in front of the lens frequently, but there was a disarming quality to his performance. In Fahrenheit 11/9, there’s a whiff of narcissism pervading the proceedings. At one point, for no apparent reason, he details his own encounters with Donald Trump (including an amusing, long-ago scene in which Trump jokingly says he hopes Moore never makes a film about him).

As it careens wildly from an “analysis” of why Trump beat Clinton in the 2016 election to a perfunctory acknowledgment of the “MeToo” movement to teachers’ strikes and organized protests to school shootings, Fahrenheit 11/9 displays an inability to hone in on one subject. Instead of providing a cogent and in-depth perspective of any one of these topics, Moore opts for the shallow approach of a headline-grabbing broadsheet. The only time he hits a nerve is when he goes back to Flint to report on the water poisoning debacle. Although this is only a tangential subplot in the story of Mr. Trump Goes to Washington, it allows Moore to tell us something we might not know and get us to understand (and perhaps sympathize) with his outrage. Flint was his birthplace and any time he takes his cameras there, we get a sense of genuineness. The multiple traumas afflicting his home city have hurt him and he doesn’t hide the pain.

The movie’s thesis, spoken by Moore during a prologue voiceover, is to ask how we ended up with Donald Trump as president. If the purpose of Fahrenheit 11/9 is to answer that question, he doesn’t do a good job. He is easily distracted and, although he starts by providing a scattershot and perfunctory overview of Trump’s road to 11/8/2016, he gets lost along the way, taking a detour to Flint. Later in the film, he gets back to Trump but by then he has lost any interest in even pretending to be analytical. Instead, in the movie’s most grotesque misstep, he conflates Trump with Hitler by providing an oversimplified history of interwar Germany and the rise of the Nazis. He finds a few talking heads who will affirm his conclusions. No attempt is made to really explore whether there’s validity in the comparisons; Moore isn’t interested in doing anything more than rallying the troops.

Whenever I see a documentary (the term applies only in the loosest sense to Fahrenheit 11/9, which is more of a visual op-ed), I ask myself whether I have learned anything. For this production, the only segments that brought any enlightenment were those in Flint, and perhaps that’s because I didn’t pay as much attention to the news reports in 2015 and 2016 as I should have. Everything about Trump is a regurgitation – old clips edited together in new ways.

Moore remains an accomplished provocateur – choosing footage that will emphasize his position while at the same time getting the occasional laugh. But there’s a dark, cruel undertone to some of the material that says more about the filmmaker than it does about his subjects. In Bowling for Columbine, Moore conducts an interview with Charlton Heston that gleefully suggests the once-revered actor has become a senile old man (Heston made public a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease around the time the movie was released). The mean-spiritedness evident in that scene has spread in Moore’s later work. Moore lets loose with both barrels on a variety of targets, including Democrat luminaries Barak Obama and The Clintons. Outside of perhaps Bernie Sanders, he doesn’t have a lot of nice things to say about any public figure.

The reception of Fahrenheit 11/9 will fall along partisan lines with most viewers grading it more on the basis of its politics than its effectiveness and content. Although I’ll admit to agreeing with some of what Moore has to say, I don’t think he has said it in a way that’s cinematic or interesting. I occasionally found myself squirming in my seat – not because the material was making me uncomfortable but because I was becoming restless. At best, this is something for consumption on Netflix or TV. While there are a few moments in the movie that can be said to be Moore at his best, the production as a whole may be Moore at his worst.

Fahrenheit 11/9 (United States, 2018)

Director: Michael Moore
Cast: Michael Moore, Donald Trump, David Hogg, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Home Release Date: 2018-12-18
Screenplay: Michael Moore
Cinematography: Luke Geissbuhler, Jayme Roy
U.S. Distributor: Briarcliff Entertainment
Run Time: 2:08
U.S. Release Date: 2018-09-21
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity)
Genre: Documentary
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1