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Bowling For Columbine
United Artists
Official Site
Director: Michael Moore
Producers: Charles Bishop, Michael Donovan, Jim Czarnecki, Michael Moore
Written by: Michael Moore
Cast: Michael Moore, George W. Bush, Charlton Heston, Dick Clark, Marilyn Manson, Chris Rock

Rating: out of 5

Bowling For Columbine is the third and most ambitious documentary to date from lefty filmmaker Michael Moore. That’s right, Michael Moore the filmmaker. Not to be confused, as he himself sometimes jokes, with Roger Moore, the James Bond guy. Not that Moore should have the problem any longer of being confused with another celebrity. He has a long list of achievements in his own right, including two previous documentaries, Roger And Me and The Big One. He has also been a top ten New York Times bestselling author on more than one occasion. His most recent book is Stupid White Men, a scathing attack on corporate America. And of course he was the brains both behind and in front of the camera in the critically well-received, now defunct television series “TV Nation.”

The subject of Moore’s film this time around is gun control, and the title embodies Moore’s usual wry sense of humor: the morning of the Columbine high school massacre, the two shooters showed up for their 6 a.m. bowling class and played a couple of games as if it were a perfectly normal morning in middle America. But as Moore briskly points out, everything is not well and good in Littleton, Colorado or practically anywhere else across America. There are more than 11,000 murders in America every year due to gun-related violence. Who is to blame for these record-high gun deaths? Canada certainly doesn’t have this problem. Moore points out how good-natured Canadians are by demonstrating how no one up north seems to lock their front door. And we’re told that practically every other country in the free world has gun fatalities at a mere fraction of the rate in the United States. So what’s the cause of all this gun violence? Hang on to your seat, because according to Moore, just about every facet of American society is to blame. A pathological fear of race and ethnicity makes us trigger happy. Our capitalist system forces welfare mothers to work for pittance wages while their unattended children carry guns to school. Evil corporations pay substandard wages or close their factory doors, creating poverty and desperation. Television journalists focus too narrowly on crime stories, and create the erroneous impression danger is always lurking nearby. U.S. foreign policy promotes a militaristic society. And let’s not forget about the NRA. They shamelessly promote gun culture and the right to bear arms, regardless of the human cost.

Moore has to be one of the most quick-witted minds in America, but his sheer greediness makes a mess of this documentary. I mean, we know corporations suck. We know draconian welfare laws unfairly burden the working poor and we know U.S. foreign policy is hypocritical. Now, it is true, as any sincere liberal will tell you, it just feels good to see Michael Moore openly challenge the likes of K-Mart whose stores carry easily accessible bullets that cost a mere 14 cents apiece. Sure, Michael Moore is right, but does he have to coldcock us by exhaustively covering every single angle on gun violence? Moore is so eager to flaunt his liberal agenda that the film seems to wander aimlessly and the subject of gun control sometimes gets lost in a morass of righteous indignation.

In fact, this time around it’s a little embarrassing to watch Moore pull off his signature escapade, tracking down a famous celebrity/CEO and holding him accountable for the latest social travesty. This was the theme behind Moore’s first film, the relentless yet comical pursuit of Roger Smith, C.E.O. of General Motors. In the end, his efforts to confront Smith about plant closings in Flint, Michigan proved futile, but it firmly established Moore’s signature theme. This time the object of his pursuit is NRA president and film actor Charlton Heston, but by now Moore is an old pro at the game of chase and hooking up with “Moses” himself is a cakewalk. He is able to literally waltz up to the front gate of Heston’s Beverly Hills mansion and secure an interview.

The climax of Bowling For Columbine then occurs during his subsequent exchange with Heston. Moore can be a master at pinning down his subjects and pointing out their duplicitous ways and during his chat with Heston the tension was almost palpable in anticipation of a blowout of biblical proportions. But this time the effort proved anticlimactic. Tired of repeating himself, an agitated Heston merely got up and walked out of the interview. As a gesture of defiance Moore boldly held up a picture of a 6-year-old shooting victim, but Heston merely shuffled off in oblivion. Maybe Moore scored a victory here, but it was not the epic victory anyone had hoped for, it was more like a Pyrrhic one. Once again, so much effort was spent assigning blame for gun violence that we’re too exhausted to savor this final moment of the film. Some people might disagree with this and say Michael Moore got his man. But sometimes you’ve got to pick your battles carefully. When you make a film and throw in everything but the kitchen sink, it’s hard to tell if you’re scoring points legitimately or merely hitting filmgoers over the head and rendering them unconscious. Michael Moore may be standing up for the little guy, but Bowling For Columbine winds up leaving its viewers like pins at the end of the lane with a ten-pound ball barreling towards you.

—Nancy Semin


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