When Michael Moore is angry, the result is smartly satirical political commentary. When he’s scared, as he is with his latest op-ed documentary “Fahrenheit 11/9,” his satire takes on an insistent edge — cutting right to the heart of our nation’s dire predicament.
The title is a riff on Moore’s 2004 classic “Fahrenheit 9/11,” a dissection of American panic in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. The transposed numbers represent Nov. 9, 2016, the date the world woke up to learn that Donald Trump had narrowly won the Electoral College and the presidency over the popular-vote winner, Hillary Clinton.
And who is to blame for Trump’s campaign in the first place? Moore rehashes a popular theory that it was singer Gwen Stefani, because NBC was paying her more to be a judge on “The Voice” than they paid Trump to host “The Apprentice.” So Trump, Moore argues, devised his publicity stunt of a campaign, riding the escalator down into the Trump Tower lobby. The plan was perfect, until Trump opened his mouth and denigrated Mexicans as rapists and murderers, leading to NBC cutting ties with him.
Running for president, it turned out, was more lucrative, and the rallies he held nationwide stoked his ego more than being on TV ever did. Moore blames others for promulgating Trump: A weak field of Republican candidates, the Democratic establishment who propped up Hillary Clinton and thwarted a people’s campaign by Bernie Sanders (let it go, Michael), and a media that saw Trump as a ratings goldmine — and was loaded with men (Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, John Heilemann, Bill O’Reilly, and Roger Ailes) whose sexual harassment and abuse histories surfaced after Trump’s Access Hollywood tape.
After the rehash of Trump’s election, Moore — like his liberal fan base has for the last two years —vacillates between hope and despair.
The hope comes from progressive, grassroots movements Moore profiles. They include teachers going on wildcat strikes in West Virginia, Democratic primary winners like New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and the kids from Parkland, Fla., battling the National Rifle Association and pro-gun politicians after 17 people were gunned down in their high school last Valentine’s Day. (Trigger warning: Moore uses seldom-seen footage taken by students on their cellphones inside Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School during the shooting.)
The despair comes from political scientists and scholars who see in Trump’s behavior the earmarks of despotism. Moore isn’t the first commentator to compare Trump to Adolf Hitler, but Moore does it with style, juxtaposing Trump’s speeches to footage of Hitler in rallies — and following up with a moving interview with 99-year-old Ben Ferencz, the last surviving prosecutor of the Nuremberg trials.
And despair hits the red zone when Moore returns to his hometown of Flint, Mich., and details that city’s ongoing water crisis — which he labels, not without provocation, an “ethnic cleansing” committed against the majority-black population of Flint by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder and his penny-pinching minions. (As a stunt, Moore sprays a tanker of Flint water over the gates of Michigan’s governor’s mansion.)
For all the talk of doom, and even fear of nuclear war, Moore always leans to the hopeful side. He still has confidence that the American people will pull the country from the brink, and “Fahrenheit 11/9” is his rallying cry for them to take action at the ballot box this November.
Opens Friday, Sept. 21, at theaters nationwide. Rated R for language and some disturbing material/images. Running time: 129 minutes.