George W. and Me
'Fahrenheit 9/11,' true to its title, is an incendiary film
Michael Moore's new documentary, "Fahrenheit 9/11," never specifically notes the source of its title. But science-fiction buffs will see a reference to "Fahrenheit 451," the Ray Bradbury tale about a future society where "firemen" burn books, all of which the government deems subversive.
Mr. Bradbury's book takes its title from the temperature at which paper burns, and an advertising tagline for Mr. Moore's movie speaks of "the temperature where freedom burns."
Since his subject is the Bush administration's response to the deadly attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 - and, he avers, the uncountable flaws, biases, and derelictions of duty woven into the approach to terrorism held by Mr. Bush and company - this is clearly a documentary with a heavy agenda. And not a hidden one, either.
Moore begins the main body of his film by showing footage of President Bush on the morning of Sept. 11, when he began his working day with a reading-appreciation workshop at an elementary school. Shortly into the session, an aide whispers news of the attacks into Mr. Bush's ear, whereupon the president remains in his chair looking very uncertain what to do.
Moore's allegation is that Bush lacks the initiative, and perhaps the intelligence, to take even the simplest sort of action - such as excusing himself from the room to take charge - without having someone give him instructions.
Moore returns often to these squirmingly long minutes, using them to encapsulate his idea of Bush's character and glue together a wide array of video clips, archival images, and satirical interludes. All convey the filmmaker's disdain for what he considers inept and corrupt handling of the Iraq situation.
Is the label "documentary" appropriate for this openly activist movie? Of course it is, unless you cling to some idealized notion of "objective" film that bit the dust at least as far back as 1922, when director Robert Flaherty passed off re-created settings and events as factual footage to enhance the realism of his generally true "Nanook of the North."
Moore makes no pretense of being "fair and balanced." He makes a passionate case for his own perspective, and invites us to agree with him or not. "I fulminate, you decide" could be his motto.
• Rated R for language and violent images.