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2002, dir. Michael Moore
120 min. Rated R.
Starring: Michael Moore, Charlton Heston, Marilyn Manson.

Review by Noel Wood

Well, Michael Moore has gone off and done it. He's made a film that has the world talking, has Oscar Buzz written all over it, and is becoming one of the most successful documentaries of all time. Sure, he's made a few other documentaries in ROGER AND ME and THE BIG ONE that garnered critical and box office success (while we won't mention CANADIAN BACON, his sole non-documentary film, which I think is funny as hell but critics had a field day ripping apart), but this one looks to be well on its way to surpassing its brethren. Of course, there's some controversy. This one's about violence in America, and it has some political pundits up in arms because it raises some questions about what the root of the problems in America are.


Contrary to popular belief, this is not a movie about gun control. It's a movie that explores the culture of violence in American society, particularly the fact that the U.S. has an alarmingly lopsided number of shooting deaths in comparison to other civilized nations. Of course, the controversial subject matter and the way that Moore presents the information has ruffled a few feathers, to say the least.

I'll be the first to admit -- my political beliefs made me a bit reluctant to see this film at first. As much as I think Moore is a talented filmmaker, I can't say that I have agreed with a lot of his politics. I like the fact that he thumbs his nose at both major parties and has his own set of beliefs, but his leanings tend to go a little too far toward the bleeding-heart end of the scale for my tastes. Not that I should get into that here -- this site isn't my forum for such issues, so I'll just leave it at that. But after reading positive reviews across the board and having learned that the film was more than the politicos would have you believe, I decided to see it.


BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE, as a film, surpasses Moore's previous works by a longshot. First off, Moore is a lifetime NRA member and a skilled marksman. He's definitely not anti-gun, but has to pose some questions as to why we as a culture are so obsessed with violence. The only thing I have to complain about is the problems that abound when a filmmaker has an agenda to push, and has complete control of the finished product. I'll get in to that in a bit. But the film itself? Entertaining, thought-provoking, and emotional. Funny as it can be at one moment, and then tragic the next. Moore splices Chris Rock comedy bits in with the same quickness that he plays back the tragedies of the Columbine massacre. The film is definitely going for the emotional ride, and succeeds at that.

What the film does to achieve its message is to ask a lot of thought-provoking questions, without ever giving a final answer. That's what's great about his approach here: Moore definitely has an egenda, but he's careful not to come off too preachy in the long run. In his search to find out why the U.S. has such a large number of gun deaths, he probes the media and determines that we're not that far off from other countries in the amount of violence in our films, television shows, and video games. He determines that Canada, which is a nation full of sportsmen, has just as many guns per capita as the U.S. does, yet has a far lower ratio of gun violence. In an extremely funny scene, he walks around a Canadian city, just opening peoples' doors, simply because he's testing the theory that Canadians don't lock theirs. The only thing he can clearly come up with as a reason is the fact that the States' news media is so intent on creating a state of fear, or as is stated in the film, "If it bleeds, it leads".


Here's the problem that I have with the type of filmmaking that Moore employs, however, as I mentioned above: Moore is makign a film while pushing an agenda, and what you see in the end results is a product of that agenda. I'm not arguing that most of what he produces is mostly accurate, but there's definitely an element of just how true some of it is. For instance, shortly before the close of the film, Moore visits NRA President Charlton Heston and speaks to him about rallies held in towns shortly after disasters involving guns. The interview is noticeably chopped and spliced to no tomorrow, and it winds up making Heston look like a demon in the long run. However, the footage that's missing from the equation may indeed tell a different story. Also, depending on what you believe, there are some other possible inaccuracies as well. For instance, I've read from several reliable sources that a scene where Moore walks into a bank offering a shotgun in exchange for opening a new account is staged, and that in fact the bank's promotion involves them only handing out a voucher to get the gun from another location. But in the film itself, Moore walks in to the bank, and walks out with a gun almost immediately, even though they mention a background check that likely would have taken days to begin with. There's also been conflicting reports on whether the Lockheed-Martin manufacturing plant in Littleton, Colorado that is often alluded to actually makes the Weapons of Mass Destruction as stated in the film or not.


Of course, that aside, Moore still puts together an entertaining film, and in the end, that's what's important, right? I don't get my political thoughts from the entertainment industry, so I don't take films like this too seriously as a political message anyway. I'd hope that there are others who follow that example, but too many are willing to nod along to an entertainer rather than make a clearcut opinion for themselves. But still, you have to applaud a filmmaker, no matter how you feel regarding the issue or the rest of his politics, that has the balls to make an impact to the point that he's able to get K-mart to pull one of their products as a result of a visit to their corporate headquarters. I do, however, resent the media's view that Columbine was the first major school shooting in years. It just never happened in an affluent white neighborhood before. If Moore had a little more balls, maybe he would have exposed the media for ignoring the many such incidents that occurred in lower-class neighborhoods, where the victims weren't all rich white kids. Sure, a lot of what he does appeals to emotion over logic, but that is the nature of entertainment, is it not?

See it. Even if you're one of those who chose to boycott it, see it. Be entertained and amused by the humor, enjoy the emotional ride that comes with intersplicing the tragedy and comedy, and come out snickering at all the pseudo-intellectual wannabes that feel like they can go on and save all the world's problems now that they've seen the movie.


All Material Copyright 1998-2006 Movie Criticism for the Retarded.

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