Michael Moore's latest foray into social commentary is quite a hodge-podge. It's not as laser-focused as some of his earlier work, but it still bears the populist stamp of this veteran documentarian.
We begin with the 2016 election, and an analysis of how in the world Hillary Clinton managed to lose after such a commanding lead in the polls. But as we all know, that's plowing over old ground.
When the focus turns to Trump, predictably, it's none too flattering for the current resident of the Oval Office. But interestingly, this really isn't about staff upheaval, or current ethics probes, or even Russian influence in the election. It's more about how Mr. Trump is a rich businessman who somehow manages to convince the working poor that he's on their side. With an implied element of racism, of course.
But Mr. Moore seems to lose interest in the subject quickly, and spends a lot of time on the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, his home State. In 2014, the city of Flint, in a cost-saving measure, changed sources from Lake Huron to the Flint River. Due to insufficient treatment, lead leached from the water pipes into the drinking water, exposing 100,000 residents. Mr. Moore chronicles how the government bureaucrats first tried to assure everybody that there was no danger, then tried to cover up legitimate medical findings, specifically in the toxic lead levels within children in the public schools. A particular target of Mr. Moore's ire is Gov. Rick Snyder, who appointed “emergency managers” to run the city's business in the context of a financial crisis. Mr. Moore thinks this circumvented the electoral process in removing the officials whom the people elected, and sprays Flint water on the Governor's lawn to express his displeasure.
Consistent with that populist ideal, Mr. Moore turns his attention to the recent political candidates (mostly women) who have been successful in various Congressional and State legislature races around the country, signaling a clear impetus for change among the electorate. Mr. Moore's message is that the old Democratic Party leadership needs to go, because they are standing in the way of progress (citing as an example the “superdelegates” appointed by party leadership which ensured the nomination of Hillary Clinton in 2016, and ignoring the popular vote in places like West Virginia, where all counties voted for Bernie Sanders).
Mr. Moore then chronicles some of the recent teacher strikes, mostly in West Virginia, but also in other States, which was not organized by union officials, but was a grass roots movement of teachers to demand a pay raise (and in the case of West Virginia educators, to demand an end to mandatory personal fitbits that were tied to potential pay raises). Then Mr. Moore turns to school shooting, giving some positive camera time to the Florida students who campaigned for gun control in the wake of the shooting at their high school.
But Mr. Moore is not through with the Flint water crisis. He seems to save a particular ire for then-President Obama, who, instead of flying in and decreeing a national emergency and mandating the replacing of the leaden water pipes, instead supported Governor Snyder and pointedly drank a glass of water to prove it was safe (though careful camera work indicated that he barely wet his lips). Obama is also shown dancing with his wife while Mr. Moore informs us how much campaign money he accepted from big banks (a particular target of Mr. Moore's in a previous documentary).
Then, almost restlessly, Mr. Moore returns to lambasting Donald Trump, directly comparing him to Adolph Hitler by using old footage of a Nazi rally where Mr. Trump's words are heard from the Fuhrer's mouth. And finally, we have the “fake news” of the Hawaii missile scare to assure us that a despot will utilize terrorist threats to consolidate his own power, just like Hitler did.
Whew. That's a lot of vituperative diatribe, some of it interesting, some of it tedious, some of it rambling and some of it focused, but all of it vintage Michael Moore.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association