If the Trump administration didn’t exist, Michael Moore might have invented it. After all, his previous documentary, 2015’s Where to Invade Next, was about as limp an effort as he’s turned out, but having a president who opposes everything he stands for has shot him back to relevance. Fahrenheit 11/9 (a reference to the presidential election on November 9, 2016, as well as an inversion of the title of his 2004 hit Fahrenheit 9/11) is his takedown of the current White House, and if you don’t think Moore will put audio of a Trump speech over footage of a Hitler rally, you don’t know him very well. He’s a cheap bastard, but he was made for these times. God bless him, and God help the rest of us.
He starts off by disclosing some surprising brushes he had with the Trumps before the nation went to hell: Jared Kushner hosted the premiere party for his 2007 film Sicko and Steve Bannon distributed some of his films’ DVD releases. There’s also footage of a pretty awkward joint appearance by Moore and Trump on Roseanne Barr’s daytime talk show in the 1990s, which Moore freely admits he botched. Recapping the 2016 election, Moore finds plenty of blame to go around for Hillary Clinton’s defeat, including Gwen Stefani, whom Moore claims was out-earning Trump at NBC and thereby caused the orange-skinned one to announce his presidential run in a fit of pique. Moore also gleefully runs down all the male sexual predators in the media who bashed Hillary and have since been exposed and thrown out of work. (If you want another reason to hate Les Moonves, listen to the audio clip of him celebrating Trump’s rise as bad for the country but great for CBS’ shareholders.) Over footage of Trump winning the presidency, Moore wonders in an atypical but warranted bit of profanity, “How the fuck did we get here?”
You can hardly blame Moore for spending so much time on the water crisis in his hometown of Flint, Mich. (they’re going on four years without safe drinking water, if you’re counting), and he cleverly ties the debacle to Trump’s presidential run even as the candidate himself bashed Michigan for it. As always with Moore, though, the thing winds up devolving into lame ploys, with the director filming himself going to Michigan’s state capitol with a pair of handcuffs to make a citizen’s arrest of Gov. Rick Snyder. You can’t help but reflect that Sacha Baron Cohen squeezed more out of his recent agitprop stunts, or wish for the narrower focus of a documentary like Sabaah Folayan’s Whose Streets?
You’ll find the bile you’re expecting in this movie, but Moore is savvy enough to mix in some other notes, too. His time with the survivors of the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School shooting will make you appreciate all over again what an inspiration those teenagers are to us all. (When I survive a mass shooting, God grant me the same poise.) The most thrilling moment comes from Richard Ojeda, a Democratic House of Representatives candidate from West Virginia and a Mexican immigrant who rose to the rank of major in the U.S. Army. A vigorous and charismatic speaker with proudly imperfect grammar, he talks about the origin of the word “redneck” as a complimentary term for workers who wore red bandannas around their necks to signal their support for unionization.
Moore should have done more about the #MeToo movement, a direct response to the election of an admitted sexual predator (who now wants to put an accused sexual predator on the Supreme Court). However, Moore biggest limitation here is that he lets white people off the hook too easily. It’s true, as the movie says, that Trump and right-wing leaders did their part to whip up voters’ fears about Mexicans and Arabs and Colin Kaepernick and whatnot. Still, those voters were willing to listen to all this poison, and in some dark, primitive, reptile corner of their brains, it was this (more than The Donald’s attacks on Wall Street and the Republican establishment) that bonded them to Trump and continues to make them loyal. He’s proof of white America’s rotten soul.
Ultimately, Fahrenheit 11/9 offers no hope from Democratic Party leaders or the Constitution. If it has a hero, it’s not Michael Moore, but you. That fits with the overarching theme of Moore’s other films: If you don’t like the things his movies are talking about, you need to take to the streets, get out the vote, organize an online movement, do something more than click on some social media site. He has absolute faith in the power of public outrage and direct action on a grassroots level, though whether that holds any sway against a president and a Republican Party that’s determined to ignore the public will remains to be seen. However, after seeing Fahrenheit 11/9, it seems worth a shot.
Starring, written, and directed by Michael Moore. Rated R.