If Michael Moore called the sky blue, you can be fairly certain a mass e-mail would be dispatched the next day by any number of conservative watchdog groups, providing sound and compelling evidence to the contrary.
That's how deeply Moore — the liberal muckraker behind such documentary films as ‘‘Roger & Me’’ and ‘‘Bowling for Columbine’’ — is distrusted by the right; that's how entrenched and spin-crazy our national dialogue has become.
As such, it would be foolish to call ‘‘Fahrenheit 9/11’’ a death knell for the Bush administration — too many Americans will refuse to see it, believe it or be swayed by its conclusions. And it may yet be proven that some of Moore's assertions are flawed.
Assuming most of them aren't, let's be brave and call ‘‘Fahrenheit 9/11’’ what it is: a wrenching, exquisitely bold indictment of the Iraq War and the alleged opportunism and mismanagement that led to it. Made with passion, patriotism and, yes, what even might be a shred of humility, it's a deeply moving, deeply troubling film that warrants debate and serious thought. Dismiss it at your own risk.
Moore lays out his argument concisely, with his usual withering wit. After a rueful — but funny — thumbnail sketch of George W. Bush's disputed victory in the November 2000 presidential election (‘‘Was it all a dream?’’ Moore asks, with mock disbelief), the filmmaker sobers us up with disheartening, devastating footage from 9/11.
Exercising artful restraint, Moore avoids the iconic images of the passenger jets slamming into the World Trade Center — instead, the sequence is comprised solely of close-up shots of New York pedestrians staring up in shock and mortal horror at the doomed skyscrapers. The effect is profound and terribly, unspeakably sad.
At this point, the gloves come off. Making, er, liberal use of archived news footage, Moore essentially accuses Bush of being asleep at the wheel, pointing out that the president — deprived of a Republican-led Senate, losing approval points and staring down the business end of a lame-duck presidency — was on vacation 42 percent of the time in his first eight months in office.
Somewhat unconvincingly, Moore talks of missed warning signs and unread dossiers, much of which — to be perfectly fair — most likely went unheeded by the Clinton administration as well.
Still, Bush looks unpresidential. Alerted to the attack during a photo opportunity in a Florida grade school, the president appears frozen and frightened. As if to put on a brave face, he leafs through a picture book about a talking goat.
Next comes Moore's most damning allegation (and the one that presumably compelled Disney to publicly absolve itself of the film): The Bush administration allowed members of the bin Laden clan to leave the United States — not for their own safety, but to conceal their close ties to the Bush family. The evidence is provocative, including the revelation that James R. Bath, a longtime Bush confidante whose name was mysteriously censored by the White House from military documents, was the ‘‘Texas money manager’’ for the bin Ladens.
More importantly, Moore questions the forensic wisdom of allowing family members of a wanted fugitive (who, he argues, weren't nearly as alienated from Osama as some led us to believe) skip the country before being questioned by authorities. Would you do that for the McVeighs?
Using his colorful, pliant skills as a documentarian, Moore makes it appear as if he's following a trail of bread crumbs to Iraq. After failing to hit al-Qaida swiftly or effectively (two months passed between 9/11 and the Afghanistan invasion), the Bush administration cranked up the anti-Iraq rhetoric, used fear tactics to sell the war and went in with barrels blazing, never suspecting — in their regressive, neocon haze — that the hornets might not kiss our feet while we shake the nest.
Moore's much-ballyhooed footage from Iraq is fascinating, revealing foot soldier disillusionment and graphic carnage rarely reported in the media, but the most stirring testimonial in “Fahrenheit 9/11” comes from Lila Lipscomb, an employment development official from Moore's hometown of Flint, Mich., who lost her son in Iraq. Once a true believer, Lipscomb can now only ask “What for?”
An optimistic person might say ideology, the elimination of tyranny, but Moore irrefutably demonstrates that it's about filthy lucre, too. As one defense contractor happily tells him, “(The war) is good for business, bad for the people.”
Most bitterly ironic of all, Moore points out that wealthy Saudis were heavily invested in the defense industry before 9/11, meaning they stood to gain from a tragedy that their own countrymen engineered.
Winner of the Palme d'Or at the most recent Cannes Film Festival, ‘‘Fahrenheit 9/11’’ maintains a lively, satirical edge amid its dead-serious themes. As is his wont, Moore ingeniously punctuates his work with snippets from old movies and TV — including a hilarious ‘‘Bonanza’’ sequence lampooning Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld — and has a clever knack for matching mood to music.
He even finds a use for R.E.M.’s hideous “Shiny Happy People,” playing it over a montage of shots depicting George H.W. Bush pressing the flesh with his Saudi business associates.
In building a case against a self-perpetuating war machine that deposits its waste in the living rooms of people like Lila Lipscomb, Moore cautions against the evils of groupthink and fear-mongering.
As persuasive as his argument is, one must remember that Moore deals roughly the same commodity. In ‘‘Fahrenheit 9/11,’’ he also sells a vision of fear. Fear of the establishment. Fear of Bush.