'Michael Moore in TrumpLand': Film Review

Courtesy of IFC Center
A powerful, if not particularly cinematic, case for voting for Hillary.

The political provocateur's stealth project documents his recent live performances in an Ohio theater and calls on voters to embrace Hillary Clinton.

Michael Moore has dropped an October surprise on moviegoers in the form of his stealth project documenting his recent live performances at a theater in Ohio. Featuring a mixture of stand-up comedy, political observation and ultimately a full-throttle tribute to Hillary Clinton, Michael Moore in TrumpLand earns points for ultra-timeliness and its admirable attempt to raise the level of discourse in this deeply polarizing election. But despite Moore's obvious desire to reach out to Trump voters, disaffected Bernie followers, those leaning toward third-party candidates and people who intend to sit out the election entirely, this cinematic lecture is unlikely to change many hearts or minds … which is more the pity.

The performance begins in jocular fashion, with Moore citing the theater's location in Clinton County, Ohio (not "Clinton Country," he reminds us), as the birthplace of the banana split. He points out the special seating sections in the theater reserved for Mexican-Americans, complete with a wall, and Muslim Americans, the latter constantly monitored by an overhead drone. And he notes that the audience includes many voters leaning toward Trump, easily identified by the close-ups of their scowling faces.

Speaking without rancor or hurling accusations, Moore thoughtfully analyzes Trump's appeal, especially to the vanishing American breed known as the white male. He comically describes a future featuring "internment camps for men" and lauds the superior aspects of the female gender, such as the fact that they're mostly nonviolent.

"Women generally don't shoot you," he points out. "Unless you deserve it."

Carefully refraining from directly criticizing the Republican presidential nominee, Moore compares disaffected Americans to those Brits who voted for Brexit, saying that they "used the ballot box as an anger management tool." And he says that if Trump is elected, the voters will have declared "the biggest 'f— you' ever recorded in human history."

But his true agenda becomes clear when he talks about Clinton.

"Can't you say something nice about Hillary Clinton?" he implores the crowd. One male Trump supporter grudgingly allows that "she stood by her man."

Moore has his own nice thing to say about her: "I'm glad she killed Vince Foster," he announces to startled laughter. He proceeds to lampoon the many conspiracy theories that have sprung up about Clinton's supposed trail of bodies, referencing one internet site claiming that the candidate has been involved in the deaths of 46 people. Enthusing over her "badass" credentials, Moore crows, "ISIS is gonna shit if she's president!"

But he turns deadly serious when delivering an impassioned paean to Clinton's efforts to bring about healthcare reform. Citing a statistic to the effect that some 50,000 Americans die needlessly each year, either because of inadequate or no health insurance, Moore declares it a national disgrace. Comparing Clinton to the current leader of the Catholic Church, he tells the crowd, "She can be our Pope Francis." And Moore stares directly into the camera, as if addressing Clinton personally, telling her, "You're not alone." The pitch would have been more effective if it hadn't been accompanied by a lengthy account of his attending a White House dinner in the 1990s, where he claims that both Bill and Hillary fawned over him.

Moore is an articulate and passionate speaker who leavens his political discourse with folksiness and humor. And much of what he says here is bound to resonate, at least with certain voters whose minds aren't yet entirely closed. But despite his efforts to empathize with Trump supporters — not that they'll be bothering to see this film anyway — he's unlikely to make any headway with them. Moore's clear agenda is rather to raise the level of enthusiasm for Clinton, which is something her campaign needs in order to drive voter turnout.

Such cinematic touches as a fake Trump television commercial and a satirical newscast documenting Trump's inauguration day add little to the proceedings, as they're not nearly as funny as the sort of skits constantly seen on late-night comedy shows.

Theatrically released projects are rarely as urgently driven as this one. At the premiere screening on Tuesday in New York, Moore said that it had been shot less than two weeks earlier and locked in only that morning. He also expressed the hope that "millions of people" will see it between now and Election Day. Considering the meager box-office returns of his last effort, Where to Invade Next, the best chances of that happening are clearly via online outlets.

Production: Dog Eat Dog Films, IMG Films
Director-screenwriter: Michael Moore
Theater direction: Dana Calderwood
Producers: Michael Moore, Carl Deal
Executive producers: Mark Shapiro, Will Staeger, Michael Antinoro, Jonathan Dube, Tia Lessin, Ellin Baumel, Meghan O'Hara
Editor: Doug Abel

Not rated, 73 minutes