Make no mistake about it. Fahrenheit 9/11 did not win the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival because it is a great movie. It won because the political point of view it espouses is perfectly timely–its subject matter a part of the texture of current day-to-day life in the civilized world–and because the jury was sympathetic to that point of view.
Director Michael Moore has made a series of successful films, including the Academy Award winning Bowling for Columbine, that are classified as documentaries, but that word must be used with caution with reference to Moore’s work. Documentaries are generally thought of as films that present facts with some objectivity and (dare one hope?) journalistic integrity. Moore’s films take a strong political stance, often referred to as "populist," favoring working people, promoting gun control, attacking big business abuses. Moore generally shows only the side of the story that supports his political position and then cleverly uses mocking humor and bullying interviewing tactics to bolster the entertainment value and win over audiences. There’s no question that he has a gift for entertainment, but whether or not you agree with his point of view, his films are more accurately labeled propaganda than they are legitimate documentaries.
There’s little or nothing in Fahrenheit 9/11 that hasn’t already been well covered in the media. Moore starts with the ugly games that were played in Florida which secured the election of President Bush and the lackluster performance (and extensive recreation time) of the president in the early months of his administration. Then came 9/11. Moore, who obviously borrows from Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s segment of the film September 11, plays out a soundtrack of the noises of planes hitting buildings against a dark screen. He notes the warnings of attack that the administration ignored and Bush’s near comatose reaction when he was informed of the attack. He delves into the extensive connections between the Bush family and the Bin Laden family, based on enormous investments made by the Bin Ladens in the United States, including funding Bush’s own failed oil ventures.
He continues with the administration’s obstruction of the 9/11 investigations and their program of deliberately escalating fear of terrorist attacks, creating an atmosphere that facilitated the passage of the Patriot Act and public approval of the war against the Taliban. He cites the lies both about weapons of mass destruction and the alleged connections between Saddam and Al Qaeda, all leading up to the invasion of Iraq. There is plenty of footage of the wounded and maimed on both sides in Iraq and and two extended visits with the bereaved mother of a son killed in the war. Moore does not neglect to point out the corporate interests greedily profiting from the war effort.
Fahrenheit 9/11 is the most skillfully assembled film that Moore has made to date. The story he tells flows smoothly, never dwelling long enough over direct or implied allegations to allow a viewer to ponder the points too closely. He is quick to catch inconsistencies in his subjects, catching them in contradictory statements made on film, presumably from television news coverage. He encourages the audience to laugh at his villains on the one hand, and manipulates their emotions with the grief of victims on the other. Even those agreeing with Moore’s political point of view must acknowledge that this is neither illuminating nor revelatory documentation, but skillfully wrought propaganda.