Movie Review: Fahrenheit 11/9

I’m not American and I don’t live in America but if I was, or did, I’d definitely be on Xanax. I honestly don’t know how 52 percent of the American population isn’t popping the pills like jelly beans… or maybe they are. Thanks to the daily Twitter rants, the constant barrage of lies that come out of the mouths of the administration, and the escalating trade wars with China and now Mexico, I’m an absolute wreck and I live a half a world away. Don’t think that we’re not affected here in Hong Kong though, because we are in a big way. Our economy and our currency are tied to both the US and China. Wither they goest, we will go.

Perhaps better late than never, Michael Moore’s 2018 documentary, FAHRENHEIT 11/9, is finally coming to Hong Kong. The film premiered last September at the Toronto International Film Festival and has already played in dozens of countries around the world. So why here now? Probably because the distributor here is contractually obligated to give it a cinema release before it goes to one of the pay TV channels. I can’t see that this film will be a box office success here though, as most Hongkongers won’t find the subject matter interesting enough to race out to the cinema to watch it, and the local chapter of the Michael Moore fan club probably numbers 20 people at best.

But if you are interested, FAHRENHEIT 11/9 is a companion piece of sorts to Moore’s hugely successful FAHRENHEIT 9/11 from 2004. The director is never one to pull punches and he doesn’t here either as he takes aim at everyone from Donald Trump to then Michigan governor Rick Snyder to all the old, white, male TV heads who have been taken down thanks to the #MeToo movement to Hillary Clinton and the DNC leadership and even to Barack Obama. While the film is ostensibly about how America ended up with Donald Trump as its president, Moore takes a detour early on to his hometown of Flint, Michigan, where the water crisis in that city continues even today. Moore postulates that the situation in Flint is just an experiment to see how far a democratically-elected government can go to subjugate its citizens. To back up his thesis, he points to the teachers in West Virginia who are living on food stamps and to the students who are being gunned down in their classrooms with devastating frequency. The director, however, adds a hopeful note that change is coming and the people are finally rising up to say that they’re mad as hell and they’re not going to take it anymore. He includes interviews with now US congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib, as well as the student activists from Florida’s Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, all of whom have had success in changing the political status quo. The big problem in America, and Moore acknowledges this, is that almost half of the country’s registered voters didn’t vote in the last general election and it’s when you don’t vote, he adds, you end up with a president like Trump. Moore points out that Clinton lost Michigan and its 16 hugely important electoral votes by just over 10,000 votes. That’s just 120 votes per county.

Moore covers a lot of ground in the two-hour film but unfortunately gets lost in the woods more than once. The Flint episode alone would have been a worthy companion to his 1989 film, ROGER & ME, about then General Motors CEO Roger Smith. Or he could have focused more on the high school kids as a companion piece to his 2002 film, BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE. Or he could have stuck to money politics, a subject that affects both major political parties and is only briefly touched upon here. Or he could have dealt with the re-emergence of racism and intolerance in America, which he also briefly mentions. Or he could have made a case for abolishing the electoral system. Instead, FAHRENHEIT 11/9 gives audiences a mishmash of threads that he weaves together under the banner of “Beware the Man Who Has Dictatorial Ambitions”. For Trump haters, this film isn’t going to get them to loathe the man any more than they already do, and for Trump lovers, it isn’t going to change their opinion of him one iota. The question really is whether it will do anything for the 100 million people who didn’t vote in 2016. I guess we’ll find out next year.

FAHRENHEIT 11/9 is far from being Moore’s best work but it’s okay. Is it worth seeing in a cinema? I guess it depends on how much of a fan you are.

Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Friday, June 7th at the special time of 9:30 am HK time because it’s Dragon Boat Day!

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