BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE directed by Michael Moore, with Moore and Charlton Heston. Opens Friday (October 18). For venues and times, see film times Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Michael Moore is the court jester of contemporary American culture. As such, he's given the right to speak truth to power, even as people dismiss him as some kind of left-wing fringe lunatic.Aesthetically, his problem has always been tonal control.
His heart is in the right place, but his default mode tends to be contempt. Look at the way he treats the unemployed in Roger And Me: they constitute a freak show, and he lacks the unblinking sympathy Errol Morris deploys in films like Gates Of Heaven.
In Bowling For Columbine, conceived in the wake of the Columbine, Colorado, school shootings, Moore heads out into America to talk to people about guns and to look at a culture ruled by fear. He even gets some intelligent and perceptive observations out of Marilyn Manson.
The funniest part involves crossing the border and finding that people in Toronto don't always keep their doors locked. Who knew Toronto could be portrayed as the Peaceable Kingdom?
But between the beginning and end of the film, the September 11 bombings take place, and the result, unexpectedly, is the first American film in which we can see the direct effect of 9/11 on its director.
If there's some slippage in tone, Bowling For Columbine is still funny (as funny as any picture that includes the security camera footage from Columbine can be), and Moore's anger is now focused and tinged with horror. As far as I know, he's the first person to ask National Rifle Association president Charlton Heston on camera what he thinks of the NRA's habit of holding big rallies in towns (like Denver) that have just suffered gun-related tragedies.
When conservative commentators complain about what they call the liberal media, they often use Moore's success as one of their prime examples. In fact, Moore had to come to Canada to get the film produced by Alliance-Atlantis and Halifax's Salter Street films, and it's not as if there's anyone like Michael Moore in network television. Jon Stewart of The Daily Show remains the only person on mainstream American television pointing out that Bush 2's wardrobe is transparent.
Opening this week: ABANDON -- FORMULA 51 -- HEAVEN -- PERFECT PIE -- THE RING For details, see mini-reviews, page 81.