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"Fahrenheit 9/11"

Written and directed by Michael Moore.
Release Year:  2004 
Review Date:  6/25/04


My friend Jeff "I TiVo 'Celebrity Poker'" Yushchak informed me a couple days ago that there would be a couple of midnight showings of the new Michael Moore doc "Fahrenheit 9/11", which I believe marks the first time in the history of film that a documentary has had a midnight release party.  Since I only sleep about four hours a night anyway, a Thursday midnight showing is like music to my ears and I signed on right away.

I don't know why more people that claim to like movies don't see them when they have midnight releases; the crowds you get at those movies are always the best audiences of the year.  Note that the only time I feared for my life at a movie theater was when I went to see "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" two years ago in San Francisco, when there were hobbit vs. orc sword fights in the parking lot AND the front of the auditorium at my theater before a midnight showing.  It was awesome.  (No, I will NOT be going to see "Spider-Man 2" for the Tuesday night midnight shows; I like to coast through Fridays, not Wednesdays!)

The audience (especially in Joe Politico Washington, D.C.) was especially vital in my enjoyment of Moore's new film, a film that whether you are politically left or right is a barnburner.  As many of you know, the film covers the time period from late 2000--when George W. Bush became president-elect--to just a few months ago, when the Senate hearings on the 9/11 investigations took place.  In between, Moore details a questionable relationship between the entire Bush family and the Saudis, the Bush administration's decision to go to war with Iraq following 9/11 and a subplot featuring Moore's hometown of Flint, Michigan, where recruiting efforts to enlist some of the nation's poorest individuals are compared with the effects the war has had on some of the townspeople.

I came out of the theater with Jeff--who went with a Rental on this flick, by the way--on a high that originally was going to be an Opening Weekend.  However, the film's final 20 minutes (that deal mostly with the Flint sequences) left me drifting while I was sitting in the theater, and while they were tangentially related to the film's main subject matter, the scenes with two recruiters trying to rein in kids at a local shopping mall and scenes where we meet a woman that lost a son in the war didn't hit with me as much as they might with some people.  The scenes are somewhat interesting, and in the case of the mother, somewhat moving, but they just don't hold with the film's core message and therefore take away from the overall product.

The core message, that of the ties between the Bush family and numerous members of Saudi families, is an intriguing narrative no matter who you want to believe, because Moore somehow digs up enough coincidences to make you shake your head time and again as you watch stock footage of George H.W. Bush and the W hangin' out with other Middle Easterners.  Especially questionable:  the sheer number of business dealings the younger Bush had with members of the Bin Laden family over the years, especially when you find out that we helped take 25 members of Osama bin Laden's extended family home from U.S. soil two days after 9/11; business dealings with a former friend of Bush's from the National Guard; insider trading that was done two months before one of Bush's oil companies lost $22 million.  The list goes on, but I am anxious to see how the administration responds to some of the film's allegations, if it does at all.

As always, it's the filmmaking for Moore that sells his story; his genius use of old footage of things as random as "Dragnet" mixed with a once-again stellar soundtrack ("Shining Happy People" by R.E.M. during one scene made me laugh out loud; a Shaggy reference, too??) keeps everyone engaged, especially helpful as the film wore on into the wee hours of the morning.  The mix of interviews, random footage from shows like "The Today Show" (the "executive parachute" scene brings down the house), and spliced scenes, like the intro to a famous 60's western mixed with digital images of the Bush cabinet, all make for fun times.  On the flipside, Moore's genius use of sound to paint the picture of 9/11 instead of the actual footage of the jets hitting the World Trade Center might be the best, and most somber, bit in the film.

Jeff made the good point after we left that many people will look at some of the editing as propaganda methodology; it's true, we don't have any idea, for instance, what percentage of time most presidents spend on vacation their first year in office.  And, we could have put together sound bites of Bush, or Donald Rumsfeld (who comes off looking REALLY bad in "Fahrenheit 9/11", as if he didn't already), or John Ashcroft, or anyone, and make them all look pretty dumb.  And, we could have spliced footage of our President hangin' out with, say, Jean-Bertrand Aristide of Haiti, and made Bush look just as bad to be hangin' with an international smear.  I think it's important to go into "Fahrenheit 9/11" knowing that Michael Moore swings hard to the left and made a movie that would appeal to his personality; this is not a documentary like "Touching the Void", a doc that spends its entire running time trying to be fair to both sides, to tell you a story of what exactly happened from all points of view.  "Fahrenheit 9/11" is from one viewpoint, so there's no need to waste the time to talk about how it isn't fair, or it doesn't mention all of the facts, or in some cases, any of the facts.

Hopefully, you'll take the time to find out for yourself.  Judging from the $22 million take from the first weekend--"Bowling for Columbine" made $21.5 million for its entire run--some of you already have.

Rating:  $9.50 Show


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09