TORONTO — Michael Moore's new documentary, Fahrenheit 11/9, which had its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival Thursday night — is an effective, moving, and messy call to action that will come to theaters Sept. 21, just in time for the pivotal midterm elections that may decide President Trump's fate.
The polemical director examines the complicated factors in the United States that led to Trump's shocking victory on Nov. 8, 2016 (the movie's title is a play on the date of the day after the election as well as on Moore's award-winning documentary from 2004, Fahrenheit 9/11). Yes, Moore takes on Trump, but the film has a number of focal points (too many, in fact). Its main subplots are the water crisis of Flint, Michigan (Moore's beleaguered hometown); the successful teachers' strike in West Virginia this past winter; the February school shooting in Parkland, Florida, and the subsequent student uprising that followed; and the complacency of establishment Democrats who have allowed the United States to sink into the Trumpian abyss.
It's that last part that may surprise audiences the most, given Moore's left-wing politics, but the director spares no one in Fahrenheit 11/9. He delivers some of his most trenchant criticism toward Barack Obama, particularly over Obama's handling of Flint.
In Moore's classic satirical style, he also compiles a montage delivering all the receipts to illustrate Trump's creepy sexual fixation on his daughter Ivanka. Much less convincingly, but to make an over-the-top, Mooreian rhetorical point, he compares Trump to Adolf Hitler, even replacing audio from a Trump speech over footage of Hitler at a rally.
Fahrenheit 11/9, easily Moore's most effective movie in years, is overly long (more than two hours), but he has a lot to say. For those who thought the movie was going to be a look at the grievances of white, working-class, angry Trump voters — the documentary version of those exhausting, masturbatory profiles of Trump's deplorables that have become a trope of mainstream journalism since Nov. 9, 2016 — it turns out Moore has little interest in that subject. We do see white working-class people, but they are the teachers of West Virginia who defied their union and risked their jobs to go on strike for a living wage, and health insurance that didn’t require them to wear a Fitbit (I had no idea that second indignity had been an issue).
But it is with the tragedy of Flint that Moore is at his best. Not only has the ongoing water crisis been undercovered by the mainstream media, but Moore's style — a big-picture, explanatory approach, interwoven with on-the-ground personal stories — works perfectly to tell this story.
He starts at the beginning. Because Michigan's Republican governor Rick Snyder wanted to privatize the state's water system, Snyder in 2014 switched the water supply for the predominantly black Flint from Lake Huron to the polluted Flint River. The resulting health crisis has done irreparable damage to the city of Flint, particularly among children who have been poisoned by lead and older people who have died of Legionnaires' disease as a result. Moore breaks news when one of the city's health officials comes forward with documentation that she was ordered to falsify the levels of lead in children tested. Moore argues that it's no less than racial genocide and that the city is forever ruined, with residents trapped by their mortgages. In one of the movie's most effective sequences, Moore shows Obama visiting in May 2016, seemingly as a savior, but instead of doing anything real, he ostentatiously drinks the city's water as a photo op and sits at a table with Snyder. The heroes of the Flint story tell Moore how devastated they were by Obama's inaction.
Moore, on the other hand, using some of his Roger & Me stalking tactics, tries to perform a citizen's arrest on Snyder, and when he's thwarted, shows up at the governor's house and sprays his lawn with water.
The movie has so much sprawl that I keep remembering little pieces of it, like how Moore points out in a short sequence that many of the male journalists who were so skeptical about Hillary Clinton were later accused of serial sexual predation. He also briefly extols the new left Democrats, rips the Electoral College, tweaks the New York Times, shows his own history with Trump (an appearance on Roseanne Barr's talk show), and suggests that there has never been true democracy in the United States — but it's not too late.
When every day feels a month, the world feels unmanageable. The chaos of Fahrenheit 11/9, in other words, seems just like life in 2018.