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In Theaters: FAHRENHEIT 11/9 (2018)

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FAHRENHEIT 11/9
(US - 2018)

Written and directed by Michael Moore. (R, 128 mins)

"Was it all just a dream?" 


That's the question asked by Michael Moore in the opening moments of FAHRENHEIT 11/9, a spiritual sequel of sorts to 2004's FAHRENHEIT 9/11. Thus begins a ten-minute recap of the days and hours leading up to Election Night 2016, thought by everyone to be a certain slam-dunk for Hillary Clinton. Champagne was already being uncorked. Cable news hosts and pundits were laughing out loud about the idea of a "President Trump." History was being made with a woman being elected President of the United States. Moore sets this montage to Rachel Platten's inspiring "Fight Song," though the context takes it from uplifting to excruciating, perhaps even cruel, in a matter of moments, countered with shots of Donald Trump's party at New York's Hilton Midtown accompanied by Jerry Goldsmith's iconic score for THE OMEN. By 2:00 am, it was clear that Trump was victorious. "At 2:29 am, on November 9, 2016, the image of the 45th President was projected onto the Empire State Building," Moore says. This PTSD-inducing flashback concludes with one question from the filmmaker: "How the fuck did this happen?"






Moore, the veteran agitprop provocateur who's been taking on the powers-that-be since 1989's landmark ROGER & ME, spends the next two hours examining not just Trump, but what led to Trump, and what's become the new normal in the Age of Trump. Perhaps more than any of Moore's past documentaries, there's a palpable urgency and a barely-contained rage permeating FAHRENHEIT 11/9. Like a lot of Moore's work, it's very of-its-moment and will have a shorter-than-usual shelf life given the daily chaos of Trump's America (unlike, say, ROGER & ME, which has a timeless David vs. Goliath feel to it), and if you're going in expecting a smoking gun revelation about Russian collusion, this isn't that movie. Special Counsel Robert Mueller is seen in a split-second clip near the end and is never even mentioned by name. Moore quips in passing that, yes, Russia helped get Trump elected, and also, in his vintage sardonic fashion, posits an interesting and not-incredible theory laying it all on the shoulders of Gwen Stefani, the VOICE star who was making more per episode than Trump was getting for THE APPRENTICE. Moore claims that Trump was trying to get more money out of NBC, so he staged a fake announcement that he was running for president (cue the clip of that ride down the escalator) that backfired when he gave an insane, almost stream-of-consciousness speech that included comments about Mexicans being drug dealers and rapists. NBC fired him, but he already had two rallies booked. That, Moore says, is when Trump had his epiphany, basking in the idolatry of the adoring crowds and concluding "This might not be so bad."


As usual, Moore goes off on tangents and FAHRENHEIT 11/9 has a structure that's loose and scattershot, even by his standards. But stick with him, because it all comes together. Moore can't tell the Trump story without first telling the Flint, MI story. Specifically, the election of Michigan's Gov. Rick Snyder, a rich businessman with no political experience who promised to run the state like a business. This led to cost-cutting maneuvers that resulted in the children of Flint suffering countless health problems from contaminated drinking water sourced from the filthy Flint River instead of the clean Lake Huron. Moore calls it "a slow ethnic cleansing," with Flint being one of the poorest cities in the state and with a largely African-American population. The Flint situation is a crime against humanity and its effects will be felt for generations (though Moore does lighten the mood a bit by staging a couple of his patented stunts, like showing up at the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing with handcuffs to make a citizen's arrest of Snyder, then driving a tanker labeled "Flint Water" to Snyder's mansion, unrolling a giant hose and dousing the governor's lawn over the locked front gate). Moore also touches upon the #MeToo movement, visits the teenage activists from Stoneman Douglas High School, and meets with numerous young, next-generation politicians (including Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez) inspired to enter the arena and walk the walk by running for office.


Michael Moore and Donald Trump on
Roseanne Barr's talk show in 1998. 
It's the new sense of activism that dominates much of the film's second half, and it serves as an ingenious way to ward off bias allegations. Moore's left-leaning politics are no secret, but FAHRENHEIT 11/9 takes as much aim at passive Democrats as it does Trump and the Republicans. When Moore says "Trump didn't just fall from the sky," he traces the origin back over the last 30 years. Yes, there's Trump discriminating against black tenants or demanding the execution of the ultimately innocent Central Park Five, but he also shows us the slow-moving process of creating a state of things that enables a Trump to happen, with everything from Bill Clinton's NAFTA to George W. Bush's Patriot Act, with Democratic politicians often getting campaign contributions from the same people who give to Republicans. He blasts the media fixated on Hillary's e-mails, and who cheered Trump on and gave him endless hours of free publicity (just-ousted CBS head Les Moonves' infamous quote that Trump's ascent "may not be good for America, but it's damn good for CBS"), even holding himself culpable for the time he and Trump were guests on Roseanne Barr's talk show in 1998 and he agreed to play nice with Trump at the request of the producers (Trump expresses admiration for ROGER & ME and quips "I just hope he doesn't make one about me someday!"), or hanging out with future Presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner at the premiere of Moore's 2007 film SICKO.


Moore takes Hillary Clinton to task for not paying enough attention to states like Michigan and Wisconsin (it's worth noting that in the weeks and months leading up to the election, Moore was one of the very few people going on TV and warning people that Trump had a very real chance of winning), and, in what might be the film's most damning condemnation of Democrats falling asleep on the job, President Obama's visit to Flint where he took a sip of water and declared everything OK. Moore doesn't let anyone off the hook, suggesting that incidents such as that led to the sense of apathy and outrage, and people feeling so disenfranchised, disregarded, and left behind that they didn't see any reason to vote. "Evil is a slow-moving machine," says one talking head, but it's gaining momentum. We're shown Trump's admiration for dictators and autocrats, how his rhetoric emboldens his supporters in a relentless stream of images showing violence at his rallies, racists caught on camera spewing hateful slurs, and the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville. And while Moore remains hopeful in the youth of America making a change, he doesn't shy away from the potential results of things continuing on their current path, illustrated by a devastating sequence where we're shown the rise of Hitler and the numerous--and indisputable--parallels to the dawn of Trump (Moore goes there, Godwin's Law be damned), ending with footage from a Hitler rally and his fervently adoring, cult-like supporters overdubbed with the audio of a typically rambling Trump speech. Needless to say, it syncs up perfectly.

How the fuck did this happen?



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