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Critics have finally had their say on Michael Moore’s anticipated new Trump documentary, and they are positive overall.
Moore’s doc, which surveys the national impact of President Trump’s 2016 election, sees the famous documentarian examining the Flint water crisis, West Virginia teachers’ strike and March for Our Lives demonstrations in addition to events in the White House. Moore’s gonzo-journalism tactics are again on display, with the film’s trailer showing Moore blasting “Flint Water” at the home of Michigan governor Rick Snyder, and Moore attempting to gain entry to Mar a Lago.
The film is Moore’s second attempt to make a Trump documentary, as noted in a recent Hollywood Reporter cover story. The first was a Weinstein Co. project announced in 2017 and scrapped after allegations of sexual misconduct emerged involving Harvey Weinstein.
In The Hollywood Reporter, critic Deborah Young writes that “the multiple targets and multiple threads which weave in and out of Fahrenheit 11/9 make it feel jumpy at times and less focused than Moore’s docs on health care, the automobile industry and the Columbine high school shootings.”
However, Young notes that “there is much food for thought in the film, shot with the director’s characteristic passion, flair, wicked sense of humor and willingness to push the envelope.”
Salon‘s Sophia McClennen was warmer in her praise, calling the film Moore’s “most powerful” and “least-lighthearted film yet.”
“Moore has always been a master at offering audiences documentaries that are provocative, insightful, revelatory and witty,” McClennen elaborates. “As Moore looks back on Trump’s rise to power he offers his audience lots of sharp, witty, satirical irony, but ultimately Moore’s point is that Trump may be a joke, but there’s nothing funny about him.”
Eric Kohn of IndieWire also underscores the film’s feel for the weight of the Trump presidency, as he writes that the film embodies a “frightening temperament” that shouldn’t surprise viewers who have followed Moore’s work.” With the film serving as an “alarming note rooted in the grim realities of the present,” Kohn writes that Moore “spotlights the potential for a new chapter.”
Yet despite Moore’s “witty, caustic voice” evident throughout, Kohn argues that the film “falls short” of previous films and is not the best work audiences have seen from the director.
Gwilym Mumford of The Guardian also applauds Moore’s “unexpected” venture into American events that overlap with the Trump presidency, such as the water crisis taking place in his home town of Flint, Michigan. Mumford says Moore’s focus on Flint results in “some of the film’s strongest moments” and an attempt to convince a spokesperson for the governor to take a drink of the water is a “wonderful piece of journalism.”
Mumford does advise that Moore’s film would’ve “made more structural sense in series form,” similar to Moore’s early work on TV Nation. “But a small-screen setting would undersell the blunt force of his message. He’s best off at the back of the multiplex, lobbing bombs at whoever he sees fit,” Mumford wrote,
In Slate Sam Adams calls Moore the documentary equivalent to the “good bad man” archetype, given that he doesn’t deliver “pretty” movies and refuses to “play by the rules.”
“Moore’s overarching points hit home with such force that sweating the details would be like picking fleas off a charging grizzly,” Adams writes. However, Adams notes that the film is not a “successor to Moore’s record-breaking Fahrenheit 9/11,” as Moore is more present in this film rather than letting “others’ stories take precedence over his own.”
Despite these nitpicks, Adams writes that Moore is “well-equipped” to inspire his audience to rise against Trump. “Watching Fahrenheit 11/9 often feels like getting socked in the gut, but it leaves you with your blood pumping hard and fast, ready to get up off the floor and throw the next punch,” Adams wrote.
EW’s Leah Greenblatt is quick to note that the film cements Moore’s particular documentary brand, with 11/9 feeling like “a survey course in Moore-ness or a greatest hits” of the director’s work overall. Greenblatt further argues that the film “feels like both the best and worst of his approach as a filmmaker” where he has an urge for “reductive, grabby headlines” and a habit of “preaching to the choir.”
“Even if you’re already wearing the robes and holding the songbook, you can’t help wishing he’d reach a little more across the aisle,” Greenblatt writes.
Alissa Wilkinson of Vox writes that Moore “argues for his left-leaning political views passionately and forcefully” which ultimately leads to “something of a gale force, sweeping you along and compelling you to nod your head, without a lot of time to wonder what’s been left off the screen.”
Wilkinson also notes that Moore’s utilized sources are “generally reliable” but can feel “loose and free-associative in some ways.” Wilkinson additionally criticizes the filmmaker for his “injection of his own persona” such as the “smug snark of his commentary and the affected cluelessness he uses as an interview technique,” which can get “old very quickly.”
Though she calls 11/9 a “flawed” film, Wilkinson argues that Moore’s film accomplishes what “few political films seem willing to do in the Trump era” which is “powerfully (if unsystematically) dismantles idealistic notions about how much better things were before Trump took office.”
Mashable’s Angie Han, meanwhile, finds the film a “bit scattered” because it requires audience members to pay attention to too many things at once. Still, Han argues, “Isn’t that exactly what the past couple of years have been?”
Though the film is “part exposé, part doomsday warning and part call to arms,” Han writes that the film fails to contain “a whole lot in the way of brand-new information” and “doesn’t offer much specific instruction” on what to do with any angry feelings existing toward the government.
“But Moore is successful in imparting the overwhelming sense that we must do something and in emphasizing that ordinary citizens … can and do make a difference,” Han concluded.
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