Film & TV

Can Trump Possibly Survive the New Michael Moore Movie?

Michael Moore speaks during an interview at the site of his one-man Broadway show in Manhattan in 2017. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)
Moore shakes his fist, and I yawn.

NRPLUS MEMBER ARTICLE

A few weeks after President Trump was sworn in, Michael Moore announced a one-man Broadway play using the advertising slogan, “Can a Broadway show take down a sitting president?” The answer turned out to be no. So Moore moves on to Fahrenheit 11/9, a two-hour movie in which he compares the World Trade Center attack to the Reichstag fire and plays footage of Hitler over audio of a Trump speech.

It’s the same old Moore we’ve seen for 30 years, except these days hardly anyone cares: Moore is a bit late to the Trump-is-Hitler party. Today he’s just another indistinguishable voice in a crowd of the very shouty, and his admixture of breathless hyperbole, vague calls for revolution, and corny humor has no zing. Every late-night comic is woke these days, and their writers are a lot more talented than Moore. His big cinematic stunt in this film is to take a tank of Flint, Mich., water to the home of the Republican governor, who isn’t present, and spray it over the fence into the yard: Watering the lawn to own the cons.

In Moore’s second anti-Trump movie (if you missed Michael Moore in TrumpLand, which grossed $149,000, you have a lot of company), our host’s analysis of Election 2016 is to suggest that reporters took it easy on Trump during the campaign because Big Media were run by fellow sexual predators such as Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Roger Ailes, and Mark Halperin. Moore cites no data, perhaps because even he noticed what actually happened: One study showed 91 percent of network-TV coverage of Trump was negative. The media cheered Trump only through the Republican primaries; then they tried to drag Hillary Clinton across the finish line. The beat reporters covering Clinton were a gang of HRC fangirls who had a collective emotional breakdown when she lost.

Reality-unconstrained conspiracy theories are, of course, Moore’s brand: This is the man who blamed the Columbine massacre on the presence nearby of a company that made rockets used to launch DirecTV satellites, which was the closest Moore could come to saying teen psychosis was caused by the military-industrial complex. This time, judicious as ever, Moore plays footage of the Reichstag fire juxtaposed against audio of news reports of 9/11 including snippets of President George W. Bush’s speeches, then segues into Trump’s call for a ban on Muslims entering the U.S.

So 9/11 was an inside job, huh? Moore has pulled this punk move before, using charts of Bush’s sagging poll numbers in Fahrenheit 9/11 to suggest (nudge, nudge) it was awfully convenient for an event to come along that boosted the president’s standing, but I asked him directly at an early screening of that film whether he believed Bush even knew about 9/11 in advance, and he said no. It’s typical of Moore that he affects bravado via innuendo but backs down meekly when pressed, just as his films often end with vague noises about revolution that can also be dismissed as routine calls for activism. “We have to get rid of the whole rotten system that gave us Trump,” he says, or screams. “Our time is up. We need to act immediately.” This is Moore hinting that he’d like it very much if you took up the guns and bombs, please, but he personally won’t be jeopardizing his comfy chair in the palace of capitalist media (a reboot of his show TV Nation debuts next month on AT&T-owned TBS). Moore once saluted jihadis fighting U.S. troops in Iraq as “Minutemen,” then cravenly deleted the remark when the heat was on.

In three separate segments interspersed throughout this choppily assembled movie, Moore returns to the Flint water crisis, which he blames on Michigan’s Republican governor because practically every other link in the chain of decision was a Democrat. He repeatedly mischaracterizes what happened as poisoning, gambling that his audience hasn’t read the health experts’ commentary on the matter in the New York Times. Then he interviews a woman from the local health department (wearing a t-shirt asserting “genocide”) who claims without evidence that a person or persons unidentified ordered her to falsify evidence about blood-lead levels in children. If Moore seriously wants to pursue this angle, we need much more information. Instead, Moore leaves matters hanging and moves on to bashing President Obama for downplaying the situation in Flint on a May 2016 visit and also for a Pentagon military exercise that took place in the city that spring. (Moore gives us a slow-mo shot of Obama drinking the Flint water to question how much of the liquid actually passed Obama’s lips.)

As is usual with Moore, he can’t resist putting himself in the foreground with little justification: A lengthy portion of that one-man Broadway show supposedly dedicated to ending Trump was about his school-board battles as a teen back in the Woodstock era. Now he breathlessly tells us he was once on TV with Trump — this was in 1998, when Roseanne Barr had a chat show — and boasts that he would have destroyed the developer if he hadn’t been talked out of it by the show’s producers. So which is it, Michael: You’re the fearless warrior for justice, or you’re putty in the hands of every daytime-TV-show flunky? Moore shares some images from the premiere party for his 2007 movie Sicko — which was hosted by Jared Kushner. So what? If Moore wants us to think he’s ready to storm the Bastille with us, it’s strange that he has to stop and show us how tight he was with the Bourbons.

Likewise with the Marjory Stoneman Douglas students: Moore cheers their gun-control efforts, adding nothing new except the information that he, personally was invited to their secret hideout to personally discuss the activism that they have . . . discussed with pretty much every interviewer who asked. Cue shots of Moore making his way to Florida, Moore nodding sagely, Moore posing questions . . . It’s all leading up to what Moore portrays as a history-changing moment, the March for Our Lives demonstrations last spring. Remember them? They occurred less than six months ago. I’m not sure they actually changed history.

In the same section of the movie, Moore interviews some of the Democrats’ left-wing political candidates this fall. It’s not like we were lacking for sympathetic TV interviews with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, nor does she say anything new. So what’s the point of going out to the movies to see yet another walk-and-talk with her? Sheer ego gratification for Moore. Hey, look at me, I talked to socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez!

So: Moore shakes his fist, and I yawn. There’s nothing much for even Moore’s fellow socialists to get excited about. Running audio of Trump over video of Hitler, far from being fresh, is the comparison everyone on the left has been making for three years, and far from being damning, it undercuts Moore. Trump’s rambling self-praise and jokes about staying in office forever are nothing like Hitler’s utterly focused, humor-free denunciations. Moore’s style isn’t inflammatory, it’s just tedious. To the extent the film is an attempt to make conservatives angry, all I can say is, nice try, Michael. You should have called your movie Fahrenheit: Room Temperature.

 

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