After blistering the box office in its inaugural New York launch, Michael Moore’s anti-Bush documentary “Fahrenheit 9/11” opens nationally on Friday with most reviewers giving it high marks as brilliantly provocative but unflinchingly partisan.
While saying Moore’s latest work can fairly be classified as propaganda critics generally praised the film as an artfully rendered critique of President Bush, his war on terror and the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
“Unabashedly partisan, wearing its determination to bring about political change on its sleeve, ‘Fahrenheit’ can be nit-picked and second-guessed, but it can’t be ignored,” wrote Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times.
“It is propaganda, no doubt about it, but propaganda is most effective when it has elements of truth, and too much here is taken from the record not to have a devastating effect on viewers,” Turan added. “Anyone who is the least bit open to Moore’s theses will come away impressed.”
In a similar vein, New York Times critic A.O. Scott calls Moore “a credit to the republic” and writes of the movie: “It is worth seeing, debating and thinking about, regardless of your political allegiances.”
One of the more surprisingly glowing reviews came from Fox News.com columnist Roger Friedman, who called the film “a tribute to patriotism” and “a really brilliant piece of work...that members of all political parties should see without fail.”
While the movie review Web site Rottentomatoes.com ranked critics’ opinions as running about 80 percent in Moore’s favor, the film was not warmly received by everyone.
Commenting on “Fahrenheit 9/11” after its premiere in May at the Cannes film festival, where it won top honors, the Wall Street Journal dismissed the film as “bad” propaganda.
‘Preaching to the converted’
And under the headline: “Moore Is Less,” the New York Post’s Lou Lumenick calls the film “a heavy-handed polemic” that “isn’t half as incendiary or persuasive as its maker would have you believe.” He adds: “Moore is still basically preaching to the converted and is unlikely to win over all that many hearts and minds.”
But even some of Moore’s harshest critics acknowledge he scores points with footage of a seemingly dazed Bush remaining seated in a classroom of Florida schoolchildren for almost seven minutes after being informed that a second plane has crashed into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
And more than a few reviews have noted that the film’s release shrewdly coincides with a presidential race focusing on the very issues explored in the documentary.
The film starts by recounting Bush’s disputed election victory. But its main premise is that Bush and his underlings bungled their response to the Sept. 11 attacks, then stoked public fears and fabricated a case against Saddam Hussein to gain support for a needless and costly invasion of Iraq.
Using graphic footage from Iraq, Moore also constructs a disturbing tableau of the chaotic nature of war and the horrors faced by innocent civilians caught in the cross-fire.
Some critics questioned parts of the film dwelling on the close ties between Bush and his relatives and the Saudi Arabian elite, including Osama bin Laden’s extended family.
The Times’ Scott said that while Moore “creates a strong impression of unseemly coziness, his larger point is not altogether clear.” As the Post’s Lumenick puts it: “not exactly the scandal Moore makes it to be, considering that the Bushes have long been in the oil business.”
“Fahrenheit,” distributed by independently owned Lions Gate Films and by IFC Films, which is co-owned by a division of Viacom Inc., is slated to open in 868 theaters on Friday, a record release for a political documentary.
The film broke single-day box-office records at both the New York City theaters where it opened on Wednesday, grossing a stellar $84,000 combined in sellout shows. It reportedly played on three screens in each.