Hot Take: Today’s news cycle is more like an AR-15 than a .44 Magnum which causes Fahrenheit 11/9 to land with more of a thud than a whack.
I’ve been waiting for the oxygen mask to drop from the overhead since January 2017. Back then, it was photos of the Inauguration we were obsessing over. There were the real ones, the doctored ones and the claims from every direction of what it all meant. Depending on what side (Yes, it’s now sides. There’s no more ideology or leaning, it’s now pick a side.) you’re on, the last 22 months have been, well, interesting, I guess. There are plenty of other words to describe it but this isn’t a political blog nor is this the place to go down that rabbit hole. However, it’s important to set the stage for the climate for which Fahrenheit 11/9, documentarian Michael Moore’s latest, faced when entering the box office fray. Unlike Fahrenheit 9/11, the film which discussed the 9/11 attacks and subsequent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and how George W. Bush and his administration manipulated the media to exploit those attacks, Fahrenheit 11/9 despite being more timely (Fahrenheit 9/11 was released nearly 3 years after the attacks), already felt a bit outdated. Even Moore’s documentary Bowling for Columbine which was a response to the mass shooting at Columbine but came 3 years after the incident felt more timely than this most recent release. It’s impossible to keep up with the speed and ferocity of our current news reporting with the limitations of the cinema. Fahrenheit 11/9, while interesting, is a stark reminder of that.
In Fahrenheit 11/9, Moore walks us back through how the hell we got here. From the last election cycle which began with a publicity stunt by Donald Trump trying to negotiate a new contract with NBC for hosting The Apprentice that backed into a real Presidential campaign. No one took it serious. Most thought he’d be gone somewhere in the middle of the Primaries. (Is this where I should mention the countless warnings I threw out there that this guy’s campaign while a joke could actually work because the Republicans had a litany of equally awful candidates and the potential Democratic nominee was vulnerable to a smear campaign? No, this isn’t a political blog. I’ll leave that commentary out.) He never went away. Donald Trump is the President of the United States. Heck, Moore could see it happening, too. People were tired of the status quo. They were fed up with the way things are. Moore held a town hall in October 2016 in which he outlined how Trump could and might win and released it in a a documentary called Michael Moore in TrumpLand. At the time, it looked like that would be Michael Moore’s Trump documentary. Heck, with the way this news cycle works and our current political climate, Moore could release a documentary on Trump every other month and there’d be enough material to fill 2 hours.
Unfortunately, this is what ultimately hurts Fahrenheit 11/9. It starts with the big picture and moves its focus to Flint, Michigan, Moore’s hometown and site of the worst water crises in U.S. history. He walks through how it happened, the strange way it was handled by then President Obama and even how Trump capitalized on the crisis to squeeze out a few more votes from the disgruntled masses. The film often turns it’s sights onto the current state of the Democratic Party and how, much like Trump infused a new (like it or not) path for the struggling Republican Party, the new guard of the Democrats may be emerging. Throughout it’s meandering storyline, there are jabs at the current President. There aren’t any real knockout blows because most of what we see we knew. Heck, the person who takes the biggest hit is Barack Obama whose lackluster attempt to “drink” the water of Flint when analyzed is disappointing to say the least. It’s hard to take shots at Trump because it’s all out there. Even when the film takes an extended look at his uncomfortable relationship with his daughter Ivanka, it’s nothing new. It’s just on a bigger screen.
Unlike Moore’s previous efforts, Fahrenheit 11/9 never seems to break new ground or explore new territory. While his previous documentaries had water cooler moments, it’s hard to pinpoint anything from Fahrenheit 11/9 interesting enough to share that people wouldn’t already be somewhat aware of. We’re in a different time. Imagine if Bruce Springsteen released “57 Channels (And Nothin’ On)” today. You’d probably ask yourself, “Only 57?” Yet there was a time when 57 channels sounded preposterous. Fahrenheit 11/9 feels similar. With all of the news and ridiculousness we’ve been subjected to over the past 20 months of the Trump Presidency, there feels like there should be more. The argument might be there was plenty there, we’re just getting used to it. That’s the scariest indictment of all.
You’re mad as hell and, well, you feel like being a little madder.
You own one of those stupid MAGA hats, don’t you?