Rating: 4.5 out of 5
No one will ever accuse documentary filmmaker Michael Moore of being even-handed. In his funny, somber, anti-corporate debut, Roger & Me (1989), and his two, eat-the-rich style television series, Moore establishes his stance (the humorous left) and then makes his case, swaying all subject matter toward his ideals, and making the opposition look like idiots. The beauty of this is that Michael Moore doesn't have to be fair: He's not a network journalist; he's a gonzo moviemaker, utilizing gentle, almost lovable, guerilla tactics in an effort to make a statement and entertain. And with Bowling for Columbine, Moore does this with more skill and hard-edged comedic tone than anyone else today.
Moore's disgust for the corporate machine so proudly displayed in Roger & Me rears its head again in Bowling for Columbine, but it's just one piece of an enormously ambitious puzzle that Moore attempts to solve: Why is America such a remarkably gun-violent society?
If you think you have a pat answer, be you an anti-weapon Democrat or a gun-totin' Republican, think again. Moore examines, often with tongue-in-cheek and index finger-scratching-head, video games, TV, movies, the media, music, parental pressure, poverty, the government, racism, the culture of fear, and more. The answer: There really are no answers.
But Moore makes a simple point as he takes us to visit the Michigan Militia, Terry Nichols's brother, or Littleton, Colorado: There are many things wrong with American society and how it views violence. Sure, it's easy for a liberal like Moore to say this, but there are two things worth remembering: First, he is exceedingly thorough in support of his arguments; and second, he is a card-carrying member of the NRA and, as a teen, was a champion marksman. In fact, his NRA membership helps him get face time with Charlton Heston (in Heston's pool house!) for this film.
As a filmmaker, Moore is still an immensely effective propagandist, but he has also matured. He has a greater respect for the gravity of his subject matter, has learned to use shock value to his advantage, and is even slightly more willing to listen to his "opponents." Most importantly, Moore, with help from editor Kurt Engfehr, has become an exceptional composer of images and a master of timing. If you doubt his skills, witness his use of news clips containing horrifying gun murders, or security camera footage from the massacre at Columbine High School.
From a purely editorial standpoint, Moore is a true manipulator, often a relentless one. The guy could probably translate that skill and his "aw shucks" demeanor into a career in politics (if he shaved more often and wiped the schmutz off his shirt). A politician should know his history, and be able to capture minds and speak to people. Moore successfully does all of the above in Bowling for Columbine, and with the help of two young men that suffered injuries in the Columbine shooting, he even enters the corporate world and affects major change.
Moore's combination of horror and levity is sharp, uncomfortable, and evocative. Sometimes it is delicate, mixing it up in the background; often it is a sledgehammer to the brain. It can cause an inner stirring in many viewers, a brewing range of emotions resulting in hearty laughs or the occasional shout at the screen. Whether or not you appreciate Michael Moore's politics or delivery, I can't think of too many films this year that get the heart pumping like that.
You can now get the film in a box set with The Big One and a bonus DVD featuring outtakes from various speeches Moore has given on his latest book tour. The Columbine set includes two DVDs, with tons of Moore extras (including his ill-fated Oscar acceptance speech), commentaries, music videos, and God knows what else.
[Ed sez: I finally caught Columbine and found it quite thought-provoking but a little meandering and confused. Moore wants to blame gun deaths on rampant gun ownership, but his time interviewing folks in Canada (7 million guns for 10 million households) injures his thesis. Moore never really tells us why Americans kill so many Americans, and this gets lost amidst the spectacle of Charlton Heston's insanity. So if it's not simply the prevalence of gun ownership what is the root cause of gun violence? He tries to generate this spectre of our culture being based on "fear," but that seems vague and not really true. I don't know anyone who feels "afraid." Does fear explain gang violence? Does fear explain suicide? And ya know, I'd really like to see Moore go back to South Central L.A. at night instead of at noon. Anyway, just my two cents . -CN]
For more on the Bowling for Columbine controversy, check out this interesting link.
Shootin' and shootin', yee haw!
Facts and Figures
Run time: 120 mins
In Theaters: Friday 15th November 2002
Box Office USA: $21.2M
Box Office Worldwide: $35.6M
Distributed by: United Artists Films
Production compaines: Vif Babelsberger Filmproduktion GmbH & Co. Zweite KG, Alliance Atlantis Communications, Dog Eat Dog Films, Iconolatry Productions Inc., Salter Street Films International, TiMe Film- und TV-Produktions GmbH, United Broadcasting Inc.
Contactmusic.com: 4.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 96%
Fresh: 156 Rotten: 7
IMDB: 8.0 / 10
Cast & Crew
Director: Michael Moore
Starring: Michael Moore as Himself, George H. W. Bush as Himself, George W. Bush as Himself, Dick Clark as Himself, Charlton Heston as Himself - NRA President, Salvador Allende as Himself - President of Chile, Jacobo Arbenz as Himself - President of Guatemala, Mike Bradley as Himself - Mayor of Sarnia, Ontario, Canada, Arthur A. Busch as Himself - County Prosecutor: Flint, Michigan, Michael Caldwell as Himself - Police Detective, Richard Castaldo as Himself - Columbine Victim, Bill Clinton as Himself, Steve Davis as Himself - Deputy Sheriff, Ngo Dinh Diem as Himself - President of South Vietnam, Mike Epstein as Himself - Shopper in Mall, Joe Farmer as Himself - Superintendent of Schools