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There's no question that Michael Moore's films have bias. Moore isn't a director who makes 'objective observer' documentaries, he's a filmmaker who creates personal and often political essays with a very specific and strong point of view. Fahrenheit 9/11 is no exception. The core of the film is the hypothesis that through power, influence and family connections, George W. Bush not only stole the 2000 presidential election, but he took America to war with Iraq for reasons that had much more to do with money and the welfare of wealthy friends than 'national security'.
I'm sure some readers will stop right here. Judge this film based solely on Moore's 'politics', perhaps even brand Moore with all sorts of nasty labels because of this point of view. If that's the case, what they'd be missing out on is a truly phenomenal film. Fahrenheit 9/11 is so much more than a political jab at conservatives (both sides of the aisle take quite a beating here), it's a surprisingly emotional and personal film from an American trying to make sense of one of the most difficult and surreal points in American History. Moore, who is typically so heavy handed with his documentaries, so biting in his satire and often contemptuous of his subjects, brings a level of emotional honesty to this film that brings it to an entirely different level.
No matter what your political point of view, it's hard not to find Fahrenheit 9/11 extremely shocking and unsettling. One of the biggest jaw dropping revelations in the film is the clearly documented, deep connections between the Bush and Bin Laden families. I know, it's hard to believe, but no one's making this stuff up! This connection between the two families runs so deep that while most commercial airlines were grounded after 9/11, Bush ordered that members of the Bin Laden family (along with some other Saudi nationals) be flown out of the country. This happened without investigators having the opportunity to really question them or detain them. Mind blowing. Even more shocking are the film's examinations of the consequences of the Patriot Act, the reality of 'homeland security' and how exactly we went to war with Iraq. It's very difficult to watch Fahrenheit 9/11 without being outraged.
But just when you think you've got Moore and Fahrenheit 9/11 figured out, it changes. The film moves from its connect-the-dots approach to Bush, Bin Laden, Saudi Arabia and big Industry and Iraq into a very touching and personal look at the people who have been affected by all this. Moore spends a good amount of time in his film talking to soldiers fighting in Iraq, showing families who have lost children to the war and putting a real face to the repercussions of the war. There are many scenes in the film which are difficult to watch and Moore pulls no punches graphically showing the horror of war (on all sides). There's no question that Fahrenheit 9/11 should be an R-Rated movie - there's some pretty gruesome and tough stuff here. But the blood and gore doesn't have nearly the impact as the stories from families who have lost children to the war. One of the most touching scenes of the film involves the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq who visits the White House to find some sort of closure to her mourning. It's an amazingly powerful scene, and it makes something so sensationalized in the media so very personal.
Unlike many of his previous films, Moore spends a lot more of Fahrenheit 9/11 behind the camera than in front of it. The film is noticeably light on Moore's trademark 'stunts', and the ones in the film seem to be there more to appease Moore's fans and perhaps their expectations for a 'Michael Moore Film' than anything else (both could have easily been removed from the film without much effect). While there are some definite moments of humor and satire, the overall tone of the film is actually somber and emotional. Moore never seems to forget the human element in the film and he ultimately finds that empathy goes a lot further to prove a point than mockery.
Fahrenheit 9/11 isn't simply a great political statement, it's a great film, and its a film that needs to be seen and discussed (even if you disagree with some or all of its point). This is the kind of film which reminds us just how powerful film can be to tell a story and give voice to something that otherwise might never have been really discussed.
Fahrenheit 9/11 is presented in anamorphic widescreen from a High Definition Master. The image is clear and crisp and consistent across many types of media (from film clips, TV, and photographs).
Fahrenheit 9/11 is presented in 5.1 Dolby Digital Audio. As with the video it's clear and crisp. The strength of the audio track is especially apparent in the scene of the attack on the world trade center (which has no picture). All in all a very solid audio track. The only audio track on the DVD is English and the only subtitles are English, which is slightly surprising.
The Fahrenheit 9/11 DVD has a lot of 'supplemental' material. More content which seems produced for the DVD than cut from the film itself:
The Release of Fahrenheit 9/11 - A pretty self congratulatory look at the release of the film, this featurette follows the film from Cannes through its national release. There are a number of interviews with Senators and other public personalities talking about how important the film is. While I agree the film IS an important one I didn't particularly find this feature to be very engaging. It would have been more interesting to see the road to getting the film actually made than the wurlwind surrounding its release. The most amusing part of this featurette is to hear people condemn the film without seeing it. (Runs about 11 mins)
Eyewitness Account from Samara, Iraq - a chilling look at the raids which American military go on in Iraq captured by an embedded Swedish journalist. The footage isn't pretty and it shows how harsh the raids can be. A powerful extra, definitely worth watching. (Runs about 18 mins)
Lila Lipscomb at Washington DC Premiere - a speech by Lila Lipscomb, a mother who lost her son in the war in Iraq. She was featured in the film and her speech here is in a similar vein. I found the scenes with her in the film itself to be stronger than hearing her speak. (Runs about 4 1/2 mins)
The People of Iraq on The Eve of Invasion - a significant expansion to the section of the film that looks at Iraq before the invasion. This area was one of the more criticized areas of the film as it didn't address directly Saddam Hussein and his impact, but the footage is definite food for thought. Many of the Iraqis interviewed in the film talk about their wishes for peace and the human toll the war could have. Absolutely worth watching (Runs about 8 mins)
Outside Abu Ghraib Prison - another extremely unflattering look at the treatment of Iraqis by American Soldiers. This section looks at the famlies waiting for prisoners to be released and it's pretty gut wrenching. It ends with US servicemen escorting the cameraman off the grounds. (Runs about 7 mins)
More from Corporal Abdul Henderson - an extended interview with one of the soldiers interviewed for the film. He goes into a lot more detail about his tour with some pretty gory stories and anecdotes about protecting the oil fields. (Runs about 7 1/2 mins)
Condoleeza Rice: "I Asked You What The Title Was" - Testimony by Condoleeza Rice in front of the 9/11 commission. It's not a flattering clip and shows her tip toeing around a report on Bin Laden. (Runs about 8 mins)
Bush after his 'Visit' with the 9/11 Commission - Bush talks about how he 'enjoyed' speaking with the 9/11 commission. Another very unflattering look at Bush. He comes off very poorly and evasive. (Runs about 5 mins).
Fahrenheit 9/11 is an exceptional move, and is absolutely one of the most powerful documentaries I've seen. Unfortunately, the special features on the Fahrenheit 9/11 DVD are a pretty mixed bag, while a few of them are worth watching none of them are as powerful as the movie itself. Moore is notably absent from almost all the special features and so many of them don't have the 'glue' that he often provides to pull them together. I would have liked to have seen more on the actual making of the film, perhaps an introduction or interview with Moore and it would have been priceless to hear audio commentaries on the DVD from political commentators. In theaters I gave Fahrenheit 9/11 DVD Talk's highest rating, and as a film it deserves it, but the DVD release doesn't achieve this same level of excellence. But based on the strength of the film alone I'm giving it a Highly Recommended rating. Whether or not you decided to run out and buy this film might depend on your political leaning, but no matter what your party affiliation this is a movie you should definitely see.