Among Moorean Cheap Shots, Many Legitimate Revelations in 9/11

Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 should be carefully studied by John Kerry’s political advisers-not for its good taste, profundity or even originality, but for its sheer bulldog tenacity in laying waste to the patriotic mythology spun out of lies and half-truths in Karl Rove’s White House.

As it happens, I attended the local anti-Bush revival meeting masquerading as an all-media screening of Fahrenheit 9/11 at the Ziegfeld Theatre on a recent warm late-spring night in New York. Mr. Moore was on hand-in his patented green baseball cap-to acknowledge the plaudits of the glitterati. I couldn’t help thinking that he had every right to gloat after the rough treatment he’d received at the Oscars from many of the same people now imploring him to overthrow King George II, after having deemed Mr. Moore in bad taste for prematurely condemning Mr. Bush for the war in Iraq.

Of course, gloating was the last thing on Mr. Moore’s mind, judging from his gracious and constructive remarks after the film. One could feel that he was still basking in the 20-minute standing ovation he’d received at this year’s Cannes Film Festival after his film won the Palme d’Or. Still, much of the anti-Americanism that fed the mostly European applause at the festival may have ignored the fact that it is difficult to imagine a filmmaker from any other country in the world daring to produce and exhibit a film so explicitly denouncing his own country’s political leaders.

By contrast, the response after the showing at the Ziegfeld was generally enthusiastic, but hardly overwhelming. I detected some nervousness and uncertainty in the audience about the tactics Mr. Moore employed to discredit President Bush: How many of them were cheap shots, how many of them were legitimate, and how many were breathtakingly revelatory? Like all of Mr. Moore’s enterprises, Fahrenheit 9/11 is a mixed bag, and you take the bad with the good. In fact, you have to take the bad for the sake of the good.

Mr. Moore begins his unbridled assault on the Bushites by reprising the charges of grand larceny and the stealing of a Presidential election-footage of the media confusion over the results in Florida is intercut with shots of Jeb Bush looking taller, handsomer and more Presidential than his brother, George, who was clearly not the family’s choice for heir apparent. Mr. Moore never stresses this point, preferring to reduce Jeb, the infamous Katherine Harris and even the majority of members of the Supreme Court to hirelings of the Bush gang. Crude but effective.

What was new to me was the spectacle of one African-American member of the House of Representatives after another parading before the Senate to block the certification of George W. Bush as President because of voting irregularities in Florida affecting African-American voters, and not being recognized due to the failure of a single Democratic Senator to sign their petitions. Mr. Moore takes dead aim at Vice President Al Gore as the presiding officer of this parliamentary travesty, in which the Democratic Party surrendered to the Republicans’ power grab without offering any resistance. Is history about to repeat itself this year through the efforts of Diebold (whose owner is a major contributor to the Bush campaign), a company that has manufactured new electronic-voting machines which don’t produce a paper trail, to be used by millions of voters in the 2004 elections? We also have the same Supreme Court that decided in Bush’s favor in 2000; Jeb Bush is still prepared to do his brother’s bidding in Florida; and the Republicans have more money to spread around in 2004 then they had in 2000. No wonder the audience seemed nervous. I am, too. Even before 2000, the Republicans displayed a flair for stealing elections-for example, in the Hayes-Tilden fiasco of 1876.

But most of this is old stuff, and Mr. Moore doesn’t get into high gear until he zeroes in on 9/11 and its immediate aftermath, with the still-mysterious authorizations for airline flights to spirit bin Laden family members out of the United States and back to Saudi Arabia. I don’t believe The Times and the other media have ever done their homework on this issue, failing to connect the dots to uncover the Bush family’s compromising connections with the bin Laden family’s networks and sundry other Saudi-American financial dealings. There’s been no attempt to follow the money, as was done in the Watergate case.

As for the war in Iraq and the alleged weapons of mass destruction therein, American journalists were so deeply embedded in the Bush administration that they fell sound asleep when questions of verification were raised. Here Mr. Moore trivializes his arguments by taking cheap shots at the unpopular members of the Bush team with Candid Camera –style footage of them primping for their television appearances. Neocon ideologue Paul Wolfowitz gets the biggest laughs when he salivates on his comb to smooth his hair, but this is a game of “gotcha” that you can play with any target, from the extreme left to the extreme right.

Mr. Moore is on stronger ground when he returns to his populist roots in heavily unemployed Flint, Mich., a fertile ground for U.S. Army and Marine recruiters with their promises of a college education, to illustrate the fact that it is the poorest young men and women who are doing all the fighting and dying in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. Moore does show some restraint in his showboating antics with Congressmen in front of the Capitol, as he asks them to send their sons and daughters to Iraq. He points out also that the President has slashed benefits for the troops and the veterans, while at the same time professing his love and appreciation for their sacrifices.

Still, even in Mr. Moore’s footage, there are depressing shots of crowds of Bush supporters cheering for the President. As we sat in the Ziegfeld in more or less political and cultural harmony, we had to wonder who all those people in the red states (and all the red-state people in the blue states) were, and whether any of them would see Fahrenheit 9/11 -and if they did, would it change any hearts and minds?

The distribution of the film has already been penalized with a restrictive R rating for its allegedly graphic images of the horror of war and the sight of American amputees and Iraqi civilian casualties, neither of which are likely to have been officially sanctioned by the Pentagon. And the movie business pages are full of Harvey Weinstein’s agonizing struggles with the Disney organization, reportedly because of Jeb Bush (again!) and his ability to cause trouble for Disney’s theme-park holdings in Orlando, Fla.

So Fahrenheit 9/11 emerges as yet another salvo in a holy war between the Bushites and the anti-Bushites, with no quarter given in what promises to be a long, hot summer. I urge all my readers to see the film and judge it for yourselves. It is, at the very least, one of the most thought-provoking releases of the year.

London Gangland

Mike Hodges’ I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead , from a screenplay by Trevor Preston, works so hard to be something more than a genre crime film that it spends most of its running time edging toward a terminal obliqueness. This is to say that from the beginning, it is hard to say who or what the movie is about. As an early admirer of Mr. Hodges’ Croupier (1998), I was particularly on the lookout for Clive Owen, the then-unfamiliar actor who played the earlier film’s writer-croupier protagonist.

Mr. Owen makes his entrance in the new film in semi-long-shot, first seen in a forest where, from the window of his live-in van, he witnesses a mob beating. He then helps the victim to a nearby farmhouse, where he’s confronted by a snarling dog and a woman wielding a rifle. There is a desultory, unrevealing conversation about the woman recognizing him as one of the workers in the forest.

Much later in the film, we learn that Mr. Owen’s almost unrecognizably bearded and rumpled character, Will Graham, is a self-exiled South London crime boss on the run from his past due to some vaguely articulated spiritual malaise. The problem for most moviegoers is that Mr. Hodges and Mr. Preston are very stingy with the back story’s exposition, so it takes an inordinately long time to piece together a fairly basic revenge plot of brother avenging brother.

There are also many unexplained and unidentified scenes with shady characters sitting in cars at night. The cars are sometimes parked, sometimes moving, but it’s clear that the people inside are up to no good. Still, we hear no one’s name mentioned for the longest time, until a young drug-dealing scamp named Davey (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) bursts upon the scene with the sexy, womanizing bravado of Jean-Paul Belmondo in Godard’s Breathless (1960). After his latest predatory seduction, Davey is seen walking home when two well-dressed hoodlums suddenly attack him and drag him into a deserted room, where their boss, Boad (Malcolm McDowell), brutally sodomizes him without a word of explanation.

We then discover that Davey is the beloved younger brother of Will Graham, whose name still strikes fear in the hearts of the London underworld. As the showdown looms between Graham and Boad, people begin either taking sides or running for cover. Other friends and associates appear, including the interestingly cast Charlotte Rampling as Will’s discarded elderly mistress, Helen, and Jamie Foreman as Will’s erstwhile second in command, Mickser. Does the film work? All I know is that it stays in my mind for its ambitiously autumnal essence, but it may not be everyone’s cup of tea.

Fishing for a Doctor

Jean-François Pouliot’s Seducing Doctor Lewis ( La Grande Séduction ), from Ken Scott’s screenplay, is closer to the sociological pathos and social pathology of Peter Cattaneo’s The Full Monty (1997) than to Scotsman Alexander Mackendrick’s folksy anti-British film Tight Little Island (1949)-a high point of the Ealing comedy tradition that’s proving so hard to resurrect. Mr. Pouliot’s and Mr. Scott’s sweet-natured fable of community activism is set in a dying fishing village on a tiny, impoverished island in Northern Québec named Ste. Marie-La-Mauderne.

Once, the men of the island were busy scouring the local harbor, feeding the nation and earning an honest living. Now, with the collapse of the fishing industry, the once-proud fishermen are sustained only by a monthly welfare check. Even the mayor of the village, a man named Réal (Jean-Pierre Gonthier), is on the dole until he deserts his post to take a job with the provincial police.

There is hope, however, that a plastics factory will settle in Ste. Marie, but only if the community has a licensed doctor. Germain (Raymond Bouchard), a retired fisherman, schemes to fill the vacuum by sending out fliers to all the doctors in Montréal with glowing descriptions of the village, but to no avail. Then Réal-now a traffic cop-pulls over Dr. Christopher Lewis (David Boutin) for speeding and finds him in possession of cocaine. He blackmails the doctor to work in St. Marie for a month, after which he can decide to register permanently or not. The rest is up to the villagers and Germain, who serves as the prime architect of the deception. What follows is only moderately amusing and almost totally lacking in suspense, surprise or even uncertainly. It is much too late for either Ste. Marie or Mr. Pouliot’s film to become another Tight Little Island .