Scott Hardie: “It ruled.”
Moore may still have yet to equal the pathos in "Roger & Me," the keystone film in his career, but he is not a man of small ambitions, and this film is earnest in its desire to do right by itself. Moore hired a team of fact-checkers and defense attorneys to protect every claim it makes, and it is careful in its arrangement, instead of playing fast & loose with the facts like his earlier (and sadly, more entertaining) films. But the thing is, he still gets it wrong, in the conclusions that he draws. Yes, it's a fact that two months passed before we invaded Afghanistan and searched for bin Laden after 9/11 happened, but that's due more to the real work of getting a well-executed military maneuver of that scale underway than to any secret plan Bush had to invade Afghanistan as a primer for invading Iraq. Really, if Bush and company planned all along to invade Iraq and saw 9/11 as the perfect opportunity, as Moore claims, then why would they wait two months to do it and risk letting the nation's thirst for blood fade away? Perhaps, the conspiracy theory goes, perhaps the president didn't want many deaths in Afghanistan to dissuade the people from invading Iraq, but I can only estimate that capturing bin Laden alive instead of letting him get away would have done much more for Bush's cause.
Misrepresentation of history aside, Moore's film is easily at its best when attacking Bush the man as highly unethical. The litany of complaints lodged at the man adds up to a startling case of corruption and impropiety; whatever his achievements as president, Bush has put his own personal agenda and the financial well-being of those in his circle above the needs of the nation. He isn't the first president to send men to die for a personal agenda, but it's morally offensive all the same. The film loses coherence when it turns away from Bush in its second half; the grieving mother of a dead soldier and the raw footage of bloody corpses in Iraq are powerful, but make Moore lose his train of thought. Many directors have been tamed by subjects bigger than them; my own choice for the best film of last year was the somber work of a formerly wild, flashy director coming to grips with profound subject matter. Moore doesn't go for sadness or fear or (thank God) irony, but a little bit of that Iraq footage goes a long way, and by the end of the film we're ready to condemn war in general instead of George W. Bush.
Still, the film contains some of Moore's trademark humor, and his "can you believe this?" reaction to hypocrisy from public officials. Some viewers were turned off by his ice-cream truck and Army brochure stunts, but I found them amusing; a helpful bit of levity in a sea of evilness. I also disagree with the common claim that this film can be enjoyed by people of any political stripe; watching its malicious portrayal of Bush, I could only imagine how enraged it would make me if I were a conservative. The only reason for conservatives to see this film is because it is, cinematically speaking, one of the most important films of 2004, but they should expect Bush to receive the same treatment in it as the title character in that other important film of 2004.