I saw Michael Moore's movie last night, and I was disappointed.
And it's not because the movie isn't gripping. It has its moments.
And it's certainly not because Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz and Rice and Powell don't have it coming. They do. The launch pad of lies they used for the war on Iraq is sufficient, all by itself, to warrant expos, spoof, and scorn.
And I admire Michael Moore's courage. I can only imagine the kind of hate mail he gets, and I suspect he is receiving death threats that he ought to take seriously.
Some Bush backers are so hostile to free speech in this country and so inebriated with partisanship and crude patriotism that you never know what they might do.
We need people in this country with the guts to stand up and take on the powerful and the abusive and the criminal, and Moore is doing that in this movie.
So hats off to him.
But he had a great movie on his hands, and he couldn't leave well enough alone.
Instead, he intruded, as is his trademark, too much into his own film. He used a sledgehammer approach when a dagger would have done the job, and he tarnished his whole enterprise with a tone that will be off-putting to all but the Moveon.org crowd.
Make no mistake: This was an in-crowd movie.
Moore has said he wants the movie to be a tool to defeat Bush. But if that's the intention, I'm afraid he's failed.
I tried to put myself in the shoes of friends of mine who are open-minded Republicans or middle-of-the-roaders. And I suspect that most of them will be turned off by Moore's cheap shots.
He shows pictures of Bush and Cheney and Rice and Powell and Ashcroft getting their makeup on to underscore how fake they are. But most people who go on TV--probably including Michael Moore--get powdered. And the segment with Wolfowitz putting a comb in his mouth and then through his hair, which elicited guffaws from a leftwing Madison audience, was nothing but high school cafeteria ridicule.
Even the lingering of the film on Bush's face at the school in Florida after the planes have hit the towers was borderline low to a lay audience, I imagine. Here he has just been given the worst possible news a President can ever get, and some people watching may sympathize with the worry written all over his face (just as many people sympathized with Charlton Heston in Bowling for Columbine).
And as though Bush's frozen reaction wasn't enough, Moore piles on by telling us what Bush might have been thinking at that moment. Moore says maybe Bush was thinking that he's been hanging around with the wrong group of guys, the Saudis. Somehow, I doubt that was the thought racing through Bush's head.
Moore delivers the same sucker punch when he says of both George W. and his dad that they may wake up in the morning thinking: Should I do what's best for America or for the Saudis, who give us more money? "Who's your daddy?" Moore says.
Again, this got laughs in Madison, but I doubt it would in Rockford.
To my mind, Moore overplayed the whole Saudi angle. Is Bush, and is the U.S. government, cozy with the Saudis because the Bush family and its friends profit from the Saudis? That might be a part of it. But the Carter Administration and the Clinton Administration were cozy with the Saudis, too, and they didn't have the same vested interests at play. They knew, though, that the U.S. controls the world economy by controlling Middle East oil, and that Saudis have more of it than anyone else.
The movie is an odd mix between a PBS Frontline show and a Bush's Bloopers reel.
The pity is that Moore has important things to say about race and class in America, about who fights our wars for us, and about the New McCarthyism that John Ashcroft has ushered into America.
And Moore has tremendously powerful footage about the Iraq War that American citizens absolutely need to see: innocent Iraqi men, women, and children killed by Bush's war; an Iraqi woman inconsolably crying after her uncle's house has been hit; U.S. soldiers joking about an Iraqi prisoner's erection (a disturbing Abu Ghraib allusion); U.S. soldiers having to live with themselves after killing people up close; U.S. soldiers who know they are in harm's way for no good reason and are now confused about it (one tells Moore, we came over here to help these people, and they hate us); U.S. soldiers who are severely wounded and disabled and are now trying to get the fragments of their lives together.
Each of these is breathtaking. Each packs more of a wallop than all of Moore's spoofs combined.
And so, too, does the story of the central character in the movie, a woman from Flint, Michigan, who lost her son in Iraq.
A very sympathetic character (though Moore has himself softly drawing out this picture in a treacly tone), she comes across as your kind neighbor: patriotic, caring, decent, hardworking. When we find out that her son has died over there, it hits us hard.
And then, when she haltingly and tearfully reads the last letter he ever wrote home, it is simply heartbreaking.
The movie should have ended right there.
It's the emotional finish.
And, for his own purposes of affecting the election, it's the natural stopper, since the son says in his letter that we can't let that fool Bush win another term.
But Moore can't stop.
He insists on taking us with the mother to Washington, a scene which, in its emotional redundancy, lets the poignancy of her son's letter (and her grief in reading it) dissipate.
In the final scene, Moore goes back to spoof. He has us see Bush botching the clich: "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me." Bush says, "Fool me once," and then stammers and says, "Don't get fooled again."
I know, Moore is saying in his none-too-subtle way that the American people should not get fooled again, or shame on us.
But he's also saying, "Look what a moron this guy is!"
It's the type of a message that makes Bush-haters feel smug, but it's not a message that is likely to persuade swing voters.
-- Matthew Rothschild