In a ten-minute pre-credit sequence Moore revisits the shock and chaos that surrounded the presidential election of 2000. Al Gore, having seemingly wrapped up the victory, had the presidency snatched away from him at the death by George W Bush, with the state of Florida being called controversially in favour of the Republicans. Having entered the White House, Bush is faced with the horrors of 9/11. For the first hour Moore concentrates on exposing and highlighting the catalogue of incriminating business links and personal inadequacies of the new president, his family and close political allies.
A barrage of news footage, interviews and statistics creates a damning indictment of the Bush cabinet as they, first, begin operations in Afghanistan and eventually focus on the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The remainder of the documentary deals with the war, highlighting both the political and personal costs reaped by the neo-cons’ desire to remove Saddam Hussein from power, using the illusory WMDs and supposed links to the 9/11 bombers as justification.
Fahrenheit 9/11 largely eschews a balanced, objective approach to its subject matter: Michael Moore is well known for his polemical approach, and this one burns with righteous anger from the start. The almost-comical disbelief in Moore’s voice as he recounts the election debacle of 2000 gives voice to the frustrations felt by liberals the World over, and his disdain for George W Bush is evident in the portrayal of him as a barely-literate redneck who, by hook or by crook, secured the presidency. Employing a subjective style, including his well-documented prankster inclinations like reading the Patriot act over loudspeakers outside Congress to try, fruitlessly, to get its members to enlist their own children, Moore is in his element here. Winning the Palme d’Or and the Academy Award for Best Documentary brought the documentary movement as a whole back into the mainstream of media attention and undoubtedly proved a thorn in the side of the Bush regime, while failing to galvanize enough support to stop Bush winning a second term in office – something Moore and many others were hoping for.
Its two-hour running time is split into two distinct segments: pre-invasion and post invasion Iraq. As always, Moore is heavily present, both in voiceover narration and onscreen antics, and utilizes many techniques in the process. Archive news footage, present-day talking-head interviews, TV and film clips, rock and pop music and montage sequences form a mosaic of damning evidence, theories and provocations about the behaviour and machinations of Bush and his cronies. A damning portrait of the Bush family’s business links to the Saudi Royal family emerges and an equally-inflammatory exposition of American foreign policy pre- and post-9/11 leads the viewer to believe that war with Iraq was always likely under a Bush presidency, and that all they needed was an excuse, however tenuous or even non-existent the links between the 9/11 bombers and Saddam’s regime.
Moore’s lazy use of Britney Spears pledging her trust in the President, and his overt, emotional manipulation of Lila Lipscomb, a small-town mum from a Military family whose son’s death in Iraq caused her to change her views of the president and the legitimacy of the invasion, are grist to the mill of his detractors. There is always a danger with documentaries that take such an incendiary position that they will preach to the converted and provide ammunition for those of an opposing viewpoint. Regardless of that, there is no doubt that, at times, there is a need to fight fire with fire – the Bush regime being a sitting duck, ripe for attack, and the graphic war footage and interviews with the soldiers involved in the invasion paint a picture of an aggressive Republican Government that led the United States and its motley collection of allies on the road to a war, the ramifications of which will be felt for years. And for that, Moore should be applauded.