The latest from documentary filmmaker Michael Moore, Fahrenheit 11/9 (the date refers to the day in 2016 when we all learned that Donald Trump would be America’s next president and that polls don’t mean shit), works as much because it gives us both exactly what we’ve come to expect from Moore as well as a few key surprises that elevate the film to something more than a handful of gotcha moments and funny jokes. Probably the most shocking thing about the film is that Trump doesn’t play a major part in the narratives being told. Instead, he’s treated more as the end result of a traceable trend of behaviors and political shifts that Moore sees going back to the Clinton years; he’s more interested in the path to the current president than the man himself.
Perhaps even more interesting, Moore is most eloquent and hopeful about a new crop of on-the-rise public servants and activists who may turn the tide away from division in America and isolationism on the global level. He seems particularly impressed with the Stoneman Douglas High School students in Parkland, Florida, who stepped up after the mass shooting there. But he also visits with politicians around the country who have very different ideas about campaign contributions and their impact on state and national policy.
This is perhaps best utilized in the film’s in-depth look at the water issue in Moore’s hometown of Flint, Michigan, which continues to be the poster child city for government corruption and how it directly impacts the lives and health of citizens. Fahrenheit 11/9 almost feels like two films—one about the deep flaws in the nation’s political system and the other about Flint—but Moore finds a way of showing the deep and nefarious connection, and how Governor Rick Snyder (a former businessman with no political experience before being elected) sold Flint and the rest of the state out with no real repercussions, giving his friend Donald Trump the inspiration he needed to move forward with a presidential bid.
Thankfully, Moore eschews some of the tactics he’s used in some of his more previous films. There aren’t as many stunts or ambush interviews, although his spraying a truckload of Flint water on the lawn of the governor’s mansion is particularly inspired. There is a greatest/worst hits clip package of Trump’s most memorable moments, but Moore doesn’t zero in on specific issues, comments or policies, because a fresh crop of such instances are a part of our daily routine now, and including them would make the film feel dated. One off-putting part involves a montage of moments that seem to imply that Trump has a thing for daughter Ivanka, and it mainly doesn’t work because it has been done before.
There are few who escape Moore’s gaze, including his beloved Barack Obama, who he firmly acknowledges had a chance to save the town of Flint and instead turned a visit to the troubled city into a strange and unsettling vote of confidence for the current governor and the team in charge of gauging the safety of the water. Moore also acknowledges a few moments where he and Trump (or members of Trump’s team) shared the same space in a vaguely friendly way, as if to fully disclose these encounters before others did.
While the film may feel patched together at times, when Moore brings the pieces all together by the final act, Fahrenheit 11/9 is surprisingly moving and hopeful, despite his acknowledgment that the country is currently in the midst of losing its mind. Wisely, the filmmaker doesn’t get lost in the Why?, instead throwing the bulk of his research and screen time on looking for ways to dig out from under our national mess. It’s one of Moore’s best films in more than 10 years, and it’s certainly one of his most hopeful.
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