Patrick McGinlay's Internet Tendency

- - - -


December 9, 2002

- - - -

Michael Moore, possibly the best-known voice of the political left in the United States, wanted to make a documentary which would point out, and condemn, the sheer number of guns in America. Then he found out that Canada, the much less violent country just north of the border, also has assloads of guns, but far, FAR fewer gun deaths.

So Moore's film follows him and his crew as they attempt to answer the question, "Well, then why DO so many more people shoot each other in America?"

Moore first came to attention as the director of the documentary film "Roger & Me" (1989), in which he examines the tragic decline of his hometown, Flint, Michigan, subsequent to General Motors' economic abandonment of the previously bustling car-building city.

If you look at Moore's CV since then, you find him involved in an interestingly diverse range of screen projects, from further shots at film docos ("The Big One", 1997) to his own TV shows ("TV Nation", "The Awful Truth"), to a political comedy starring John Candy ("Canadian Bacon").

This illustrates Moore's goal perfectly: he wants people to think about issues such as bigotry, corporate greed and media bloodlust, so mixes discussion of these issues in with varying levels of comedy and some shock tactics in an effort to snare the largest audience possible. For the most part he does it well, and sometimes he really knocks one out of the park (as when, on "The Awful Truth", he corrals a group of throat cancer survivors into singing Christmas carols -- through the holes in their necks -- in the lobby of the Philip Morris building), but his best adventures into guerilla filmmaking manage to effect a little actual social change. He knows that big corporations, like big bullies, hate being laughed at, but what the corporations hate more is being exposed as greedy, stinking bottom-feeders. So when he does this -- repeatedly -- they often "turn the other cheek" for the cameras, as Walmart does in "Bowling For Columbine".

We find out that the bullets used by Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris in their massacre at Littleton High School were purchased at a local Walmart store. Moore takes two of the survivors of the shooting, both injured, one in a wheelchair, to Walmart's headquarters so they can attempt to return the bullets still lodged in their bodies for a refund, a nice little stunt which they hope will shame Walmart into stopping the sale of bullets in their stores. As is usual in Moore's hijinks, friendly corporate PR people attempt to get them to leave, then they are ignored for a while, but Moore alerts other media outlets to what is going on, and Walmart is swamped with cameras. Finally, and unexpectedly for Moore, the Walmart people cave in to the kids' request.

"Bowling For Columbine" balances segments like that one with pieces that are scary (his talk with the brother of one of the Oklahoma City bombers results in a chilling scene with a loaded gun) and funny (a wacky, fast-paced animation sequence explaining America's love of guns is done with "limited animation", but you'd have to be a bit of a dummy to confuse it with the work of the "South Park" guys) and always interesting (Marilyn Manson comes off highly intelligent, Charlton Heston perhaps less so).

The most common -- and correct -- accusation leveled at Moore is that he quotes people and facts out of context to make his points more powerfully. This is sometimes true, but the arguments against him tend to be pretty feeble, and he is always far more truthful than his subjects.

"Bowling For Columbine" will infuriate those to the right of the political spectrum, which is good, because the huffing and puffing will give the darlings some much-needed exercise. Oh, and Moore doesn't really answer the question, "Well, then why DO so many more people shoot each other in America?", but if you go and see it you might come up with an answer for yourself.

Stars: Michael Moore, Charlton Heston
Release Date: December 26, 2002
Rated: M
Running Time: 121 minutes
Showing: General release


- - - -