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Review: 'Fahrenheit' a powerful, fiery film

At times heavy-handed, at times off-putting, but well done

By Paul Clinton
CNN Reviewer

Moore, Lipscomb
Michael Moore talks with Lila Lipscomb, who lost a son in Iraq.
September 11 attacks
Michael Moore

(CNN) -- Filmmaker Michael Moore tends to make his points with a sledgehammer, and his anti-Bush administration documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11" is no exception. But this time around he uses more delicate instruments as well, and what emerges is a powerful film.

Documentarians always have their own points of view, but Moore takes his positions and then guards them with pitbull-like intensity (though with humor as well). That tendency was plain in such past efforts as "Roger and Me" and the Academy Award-winning "Bowling For Columbine." "Fahrenheit 9/11" takes his burning passion to new heights; the heat is downright tangible.

But the question isn't whether "Fahrenheit 9/11" is a fair and balanced look at its subject matter. Of course it isn't. Rather, is it good filmmaking?

The answer is yes.

Moore states his premise and then proceeds to build his case quite effectively. The title is a play on "Fahrenheit 451," the temperature at which paper burns, and a Ray Bradbury novel about a future totalitarian state in which reading and independent thought are banned. Moore's contention is that the present administration in Washington is jamming its policies down the throats of Americans -- and the world -- with little to no regard for the truth; or, at the very least, no room for an open discussion as to the validity of those policies.

Showing restraint

Moore is going for the jugular in this one-man cinematic crusade. However, he does show remarkable -- and I feel wise -- restraint when it comes to the actual events of September 11, 2001. Rather than featuring grisly images of the World Trade Center collapsing, he lets the screen go dark, relying on sound to convey the horror of the event.

But when it comes to Bush himself, the gloves are off and the fists are clenched.

Perhaps the most damaging footage shows Bush on September 11, sitting in a Florida classroom for a full seven minutes after he had been told that the second tower had been struck, and that it was clear the horrific events in New York were a terrorist attack, not a tragic accident. Moore lets this moment go on and on: The president of the United States, stone-faced in front of dozens of schoolchildren, doing absolutely nothing, as our nation comes under attack.

Though Moore is the narrator of "Fahrenheit" and appears in the movie, much of the film consists of news footage featuring the president. At times, it can be argued, some of these scenes appear out of context.

In one scene, Bush addresses supporters at a white-tie fundraiser: "This is an impressive crowd -- the haves ... and the have-mores. Some people call you the elite; I call you my base." In another moment, Bush is in the middle of a golf game when he gives an obviously impromptu news conference. "I call upon all nations to do everything they can to stop these terrorist killers," he says. "Now watch this drive." He then proceeds to step back and hit the golf ball.

Powerful sequences

On September 11, President Bush reads "My Pet Goat" to a group of Florida schoolchildren.

But the film finds stunning power in the story of Lila Lipscomb, a resident of Moore's hometown of Flint, Michigan. Her son is fighting in Iraq; when she is first interviewed, she's a staunch defender of the war and Bush's policies.

But then her son is killed. After his death, she goes through a poignant and deep metamorphosis and becomes staunchly anti-Bush and anti-war.

Whether "Fahrenheit 9/11" will have an impact beyond its cinematic achievement, only time will tell. But that doesn't diminish the film. It's an accomplished documentary with an extremely powerful message.

"Fahrenheit 9/11" opens nationwide on Friday, June 25.

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