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Fahrenheit 11/9 **

by Ruben Rosario

Michael Moore's highly anticipated foray into the path that took Donald Trump to the White House is an overstuffed disappointment that tries to cover too much ground, making for an exhausting ordeal. 

Is it worth $10? No 

Among some circles, Michael Moore is a hero with a camera. In others, an acquired taste best experienced in short doses. And for a sizable demographic that leans right of center, the Flint, Michigan native is a pariah, a charlatan who distorts the truth for his purposes and besmirches what it means to be a documentarian.

So when I say that “Fahrenheit 11/9,” his long-awaited dissection into how Donald Trump became our commander in chief on Nov. 9, 2016, is an unwieldy mess, it's coming from someone who unabashedly falls in the first category, someone who understands where Moore's detractors are coming from, but who is also fond of pointing out that what makes the Oscar winner special is not what he says but how he says it. The man is a born entertainer, the kind of political satirist who marries his brand of rabble-rousing with a salt-of-the-earth humanism that sweetens the pill in all kinds of disarming ways. In other words, his documentaries are a fun time at the movies.

And that quality is precisely what's in short supply in his latest portrait of American life. The film is so busy doling out talking points from its overstuffed agenda that it forgets to bring the razzle dazzle that's emblematic of Moore's most memorable work. Quite the contrary. It ends up becoming a tough slog, a chore to sit through, even as one nods in agreement with his bombardment of arguments and accusations.

A crucial part of the problem here is that “Fahrenheit 11/9,” a sequel of sorts to 2004's Palme d'Or-winning “Fahrenheit 9/11,” wants to be at least three films in one. Let's begin with his analysis of the 2016 election, a scathing post mortem that enables the filmmaker to point fingers. Ad nauseam. Moore points his finger at Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and her campaign managers for neglecting the very states that eked out a victory for her opponent. He points his finger at the Democratic Party for torpedoing U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders' campaign, even when it appeared to gather steam in a not insignificant number of states. He points his finger at elected Democratic Congresspeople for uttering the word “compromise” over and over again. Where was their spine then, and where is it now?

These are all valid points to make, but Moore zips from one to the other without making any of them stick. The blame game can only take him so far before the film starts feeling like an endurance test. Moore's own past involvement with Trump and his extended family makes for some amusing moments, including footage from an appearance alongside the future president on Roseanne Barr's short-lived talk show. These moments convey just how incestuous showbiz can be, even as they show Moore patting himself on the back.

But these brief respites are unable to conceal that the filmmaker has lost his touch. Even when he comes across as an angry old man yelling at a cloud, there's no escaping the sense that he's gotten rusty at his craft. He never was one to shy away from obvious musical cues, but “Fahrenheit 11/9” has some groaners. For example, the Republicans' takeover of the White House is set to Jerry Goldsmith's score for “The Omen.” Har dee har har. And when he goes into the early days of Trump's campaign, when Democrats ridiculed the candidate and slammed his incendiary description of illegal Mexican immigrants, the sound of mariachi music clogs the soundtrack. Get it, get it?

Moore hits pay dirt when showing older photographs of Trump getting handsy with his daughter Ivanka when she was just a girl. But he devotes too much time in wagging his finger at how America was responsible for the making of Trump for the movie's #MeToo moment to resonate.

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But if you think Moore has bitten off more he could chew by attempting to tackle the Trump phenomenon, brace yourself, because “Fahrenheit 11/9” also aims to shine a light on his native Flint's water crisis. Ironically, these segments, chonicling how the city's residents ended up with toxic levels of lead in their pipes, do a more effective job of mounting a searing indictment of the lengths to which a Republican official (in this case Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder) will go to assert his power, even if it means condemning an entire, predominatly African-American city population to a health crisis with a body count.

Perhaps the most provocative moment in “Fahrenheit 11/9” comes when Moore depicts then-President Barack Obama's visit to Flint. It shows the esteemed leader turning an opportunity to bring about genuine change to the city's residents into a deplorable PR stunt. It drives home the notion that everyone is fair game when it comes to Moore's laserlike gaze, even someone as revered as Obama. More power to him.

And yet, for all of Moore's attempts to stitch together the Flint footage with his Trump takedown, it feels like something from a different movie. It deprives an already overstuffed film from achieving cohesion. And that's before I even mention a third thematic strand: a portrait of gun violence that shows the filmmaker revisiting the urgent topic he tackled so well in “Bowling for Columbine.” Brief graphic video of bodies on the classroom floor at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School provide the film with a much-needed shot in the arm. Moore was never one to look away at unspeakable acts of evil, and that, at least, hasn't changed. The director is then seen visiting the Parkland school's student activists in the wake of the Feb. 14 shooting, and for a fleeting moment, we get a glimpse of the man-on-the-street vérité that tends to bring out the best in him. But like the Flint content, this portion of the film feels like a tacked-on afterthought, deserving of being explored more fully in a separate project.

The aim is clear. Moore has no interest in building bridges with those on the opposite side of the aisle. “Fahrenheit 9/11” purports to rally the base by hitting them with tough-love criticism of their past actions (and lack thereof). Run to the polls, Moore stresses, because the fate of our democracy is at stake. But for that mission to be accomplished, the movie needed to be good. It needed to show Moore firing on all cylinders. What we get instead is an exhausting screed that sends us home, not anxious to lace up our sneakers and join the resistance, but eager to jump in bed for a nap. It's a sloppy stew of bullet points, a fatty alphabet soup that overwhelms when it ought to enlighten. It's an unfocused, undisciplined letdown from a bright voice that appears to have lost its way.

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