Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB
USA, 2018. State Run Films, Midwestern Films, Briarcliff Entertainment, Dog Eat Dog Films. Screenplay by Michael Moore. Cinematography by Luke Geissbuhler, Jayme Roy. Produced by Carl Deal, Michael Moore, Meghan O’Hara. Music by Heather Kreamer. Film Editing by Luke Geissbuhler, Jayme Roy. Toronto International Film Festival 2018.
Michael Moore’s Bowling For Columbine sparked a boom of non-musical documentaries becoming box office hits, with Moore outdoing its popularity with the Palme D’Or-winning Fahrenheit 9/11 two years later but never fully returning to this level of success despite continuing to churn out works examining the ethics and morals of American corporations and the politicians behind them. Here he takes on the Trump presidency and uses it as a callback to the information we already learned in his three most popular films (Roger & Me being the other one), challenging the commonly expressed anti-Trump sentiment that “even the Bushes were better than this” by putting forth a sequence of events that connects Trump back through all the American presidents going back to Reagan: the man, it is revealed, is not a disease but a symptom of one, and there are many indications for why getting rid of him will not suddenly make everything work properly again. Moore is a showman who happily, shamelessly places himself at the centre of his narratives and, in doing so, makes the constant argument about his factual integrity unnecessary (at least to me); the footage is researched and fact-checked, the conclusions drawn are his own, and Pauline Kael herself called him on his inventive arranging of footage to suit his own narrative as far back as his first film, so accept the possibility that his presence on screen, while fanning the flames of his incendiary personality cult, is also his transparent admission that what we are seeing is filtered through the filmmaker’s own perspective (and really, what documentary isn’t). Trump’s career in real estate and reality-television popularity has dovetailed far more with show business than with politics, and Moore as a result is that much more present in not just the footage created for this film but the archive stuff as well (including their having appeared together on an episode of Roseanne’s short-lived daytime talk show some years back). Trump’s election deeply emphasized a divide between an already bifurcated country, and Moore, surprisingly, has as much excoriating commentary for the role that the Democrats have played in where the country has ended up as he does the current administration, from Obama’s failure to satisfy the needs of the people during the Flint water scandal, the superdelegate fraud in the 2016 election that promoted Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders, and the media’s painting left-leaning activists and politicians as radicals in favour of centrists (because they favour the needs of corporations). Neither Clinton escapes Moore’s ire (Bill’s failures with NAFTA and the Crime Bill), we go to West Virginia to see impoverished teachers being screwed over by their union and then, for the grand climax, we visit Parkland and see the activism that has come out of the tragedy that occurred at the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Moore hardly rewrites his own book here but his anger towards liberal politicians is what feels fresh and surprising, the rest of it falling on his usual schtick, like the near-Borat-level pranks that include showing up at Michigan governor Robert Snyder’s house with a water truck. It leads to something of a messy ending, Moore suggests (with little confidence) that the solution is to be found in the activism of the young (school walkouts, endless marches) as changes at a policy level are hopeless if even Obama is going to mime drinking from a potentially contaminated water glass. His examining the familiar comparison of Trump to Hitler in detail does not back this suggestion up in any significant way, but this is as dazzling a show as he has made in a long time, biased and unlikely to change anyone’s mind and thoroughly entertaining.