You don’t have to be right wing to find Michael Moore annoying (although it probably helps). Even if your political instincts align with his, two-and-a-bit-hours of his schtick – the self-righteous indignation, the annoying voiceover, the juvenile stunts, the baseball caps – can feel Moore than enough. But catch him on a good film – and this documentary, Fahrenheit 11/9, is one of his best – and you walk out of the cinema fired up, steam hissing from your ears.
The title here is a spin (literally) on Fahrenheit 9/11, Moore’s 2004 savaging of George W Bush and the Iraq War. The new film is named for the day that we woke up to find Donald Trump had been voted leader of the free world. While his win surprised most people (Trump included, judging from his dazed acceptance speech) Moore called the election early in the campaign – at a time when left-wing pundits were still smugly telling us all that no one would vote for such an idiot.
To Moore, Trump is an evil genius and the film takes a swipe at his racism and misogyny, comparing the president to Hitler. (Yep, he goes there). But Fahrenheit 11/9 is not a Trump documentary, ignore the poster. Moore’s bigger question is: “How the fuck did this happen?”
His argument is that American democracy is a work-in-progress that needs to be fought for, and right now it’s in crisis. Donald Trump didn’t just fall out of the sky like a rancid orange. The two major political parties in America, focused on big business and special interests, have for years ignored vast swathes of the country. In return, 100 million people didn’t bother to turn out for the 2016 election – the biggest chunk of voters. With Fahrenheit 11/9 Moore goes on a tour to see what’s going on in “real America”.
Donald Trump didn’t just fall out of the sky like a rancid orange
In blood-boiling scenes, the director – older, a little frail, still wearing the hat – goes back home to Flint, Michigan (where he shot his first doc, 1989’s Roger & Me) to report on the water crisis. In 2014, tap water in the poor, predominantly black, city was contaminated with dangerous levels of lead, linked to life-changing behavioural and developmental problems in children.
He attempts to make a citizen’s arrest of the state’s governor Rick Snyder, a classic Moore stunt, and later shows up outside his mansion with a truck full of Flint water, which he proceeds to hose over the garden. “No terrorist group has figured out how to poison the water supply of an entire city in America,” Moore says with typical hyperbole. But you know what, he’s got a point. For me the film’s most upsetting moment comes in a chance remark by a teacher on strike in West Virginia, who tells the camera she’s listed as “mom” in the phones of eight students whose mothers are not around.
The film ends on a note of optimism as Moore drops by to visit teenage survivors of the Parkland school shooting in Florida, now organising youth marches against gun violence. Like a cool uncle, Moore hangs out at their meetings. He also interviews progressives shaking up the Democratic party establishment, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old ex-waitress who won the Democratic primary in the Bronx and Queens and may soon become the youngest person in Congress.
More depressingly, off camera, in interviews to publicise Fahrenheit 11/9, Moore has been predicting that Trump will be re-elected in 2020.
Fahrenheit 11/9 is in cinemas from October 19