Bowling for Columbine (2002)

reviewed by
Harvey S. Karten


BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE

Rating out of 4 stars: 3.5 Reviewed by Harvey Karten United Artists/Alliance Atlantis Director: Michael Moore Writer: Michael Moore Cast: Michael Moore, George W. Bush, Dick Clark, Charlton Heston, Marilyn Manson, John Nichols, Matt Stone, Chris Rock Screened at: MGM, NYC, 9/30/02

Which came first, the chick or the egg? Beats me, but, you ask, what does this have to do with ace documentarian Michael Moore's smashing new movie about America's dangerous love for guns? Simply this. While other countries have had histories of violence just like our own Germany and the Soviet Union, for example no other country comes anywhere near the U.S. in killings by ordinary people against other just plain people, principally through the use of guns. The question that puzzles Mr. Moore and the rest of us, then, is as difficult as the chicken-egg controversy. Why us?

Not that there's a dearth of opinions on the subject. Senator Joseph Lieberman in perhaps the principal fan in the U.S. Senate for blaming violence on TV. The Christian Right indicts the lack of religious training. Social workers find fault with the lack of concern by political figures for the poor. Historians talk about the sad record of violence committed in our country for hundreds of years: witch burning, slavery, Ku Klux Klan activity, and most important of all the compulsion of the government to become involved in foreign domestic issues such as in Chile, Vietnam, and Iran where the CIA and its associate agencies set up and knocked down regimes, resulting in the death of millions of people.

What's intriguing about Michael Moore's movie, the first documentary in forty-six years to be accepted for entry into the Cannes Film Festival and probably on the short list for Oscar consideration this year, is that he doesn't pretend to know the answer. Sure, he's searching. He's digging deeply in interviews across the land with supporting archival film, but he never implies throughout the film's two hours that we can sit back, relax, and that patience will reward us with the answer.

What's also intriguing is how Moore mixes humor with such a grim subject. After all he's looking at why some 11,000 Americans die at the hands of their fellow Americans each year, while in Canada, which freely sells guns to the tune of 7 million for its 10 million families (30 million people), there's just a handful of killings. Rotund and dressed real casual with a baseball cap, jeans, and a two-month growth of hair, Michael Moore could be your next door neighbor and not a resident of New York's hip Upper West Side (though he was brought up in Flint, Michigan). His search takes him to NRA president Charlton Heston's opulent digs in Beverly Hills, where in an interview he embarrasses "Moses" but asking him to apologize for scheduling an NRA rally just days after the so-called Trench-Coat Mafia gunned down twelve students at Columbine (Colorado) High School near Denver. He puts up such a fuss at K-Mart, using two students who were wounded at the school to make his point, that the Vice President for Communications at the major chain announced that K-Mart within 90 days would cease all sales of bullets.

That's the somber part of the story. Remember that we're talking about the guy who spun off the highest-grossing documentary of all-time, "Roger and Me," an ironic tale about his attempts to track down General Motors chairman Roger Smith to show him what this factory closing did in the town of Flint Michigan where 40,000 jobs were lost. We're talking about the guy whose "The Big One" demonstrated his talent for finding irony in America while he went on a book promotion tour of his "Downsize This!" Most of the fun comes from the fast editing, the use of cartoons such as one hilarious feature about "The History of the United States," which looks like something that the government of Iran or Iraq could put out and which shows how Americans are so ruled by fear that they massacred Indians, witches, blacks, and one another in record numbers. (Remember we're not talking about the repression of institutionalized government here such as Saddam Hussein's massacre of Kurds, but of killings committed by ordinary people against other ordinary folks.)

Where does the title come from? Moore discovered that the young killers at Columbine High School were into bowling. It makes as much sense to blame bowling for the killings, states the director, as to indict video games, TV, movies, or Marilyn Manson (and in fact he interviews Manson for us to show us that we have nothing to fear from the guy.)

There is one paradox. If as Moore says that Americans are fueled by fear staying behind locked doors while Canadians leave theirs open is it not also true that we have the world's most open society and because of our laid-back attitude, we allowed fanatics to come legally into the country, take flight lessons just as lawfully, and as we now speak we have not made our airports more secure than they were a year ago? I wish that Moore would have explored this, but what we have here is a gem of a documentary, the opposite of the talking heads bore that some documentarians wind up, with a terrifically ironic soundtrack all of which could be called a subliminal promotion of his current best- seller, "Stupid White Men."

Not Rated. Running time: 125 minutes. (C) 2002 by Harvey Karten, harveycritic@cs.com

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