During the past 15 years, Michael Moore has enjoyed cheekily tweaking the nose of the establishment, whether he's pestering General Motors' CEO (Roger&Me) or savaging the NRA (Bowling For Columbine). In Fahrenheit 9/11, Moore squares up against his biggest target yet: the US President himself. But nose-tweaking isn't enough for this target. Oh no. This is a full-blown, cartilage-crushing fist to the face.
At least, that's what Moore's hoping for. Irked by his problems finding an American distributor, the slouchy satirist has barely disguised his desire to "shock and awe" US audiences away from voting for Dubya at this year's election. Whether any movie could ever have the power to swing an election is debatable. But what's undeniable is Fahrenheit 9/11's sheer spleen-squeezing power. Recalling Bush's stealing of the 2000 election, revealing his inept response to the news of the World Trade Centre attack and showing us the horrifying human cost of his eventual reaction - - the invasion of Iraq - - it has the ability to make you laugh in disbelief, then twitch with rage.
Such reactions are garnered by a change of filmmaking tactic. Moore shifts away from putting himself in the frame and employing comedy stunts, instead relying on cunning editing and sardonic voiceovers to help Bush condemn himself, before ditching the black comedy to reveal some truly distressing, censored news footage of what's really happening in Iraq. Only problem is, it's more an exercise in recontextualising what all Moore acolytes will already know or believe. Annoyingly, the most interesting element, an investigation into the links between the Bush family and the Bin Ladens, is dropped early on so the director can indulge his anti-war sentiments.
That Tony Blair is only glimpsed once in Fahrenheit 9/11 is a sure sign Moore hasn't made it for us. This is a movie for a broader, less-informed American audience who, judging by box office takings in the US, want to hear what Moore has to say. But that shouldn't distract from the fact that Fahrenheit is a brutally effective piece of filmmaking, so charged that it'll make you want to do the face-punching should your path ever cross with a certain Mr Bush...
Not quite as smart as Moore's previous work, but his most passionate yet - - and a valuable summation of what's going wrong with the Western world.