Few films guarantee entertainment whether the audience hates or loves what they see. This is an art perfected by writer/director/leftist Michael Moore. Granted, his quasi-documentaries are about politics, but they are one of the best conversation/argument starters.
Bowling for Columbine is but the latest piece in his activist work that includes books like Stupid White Men, television like "TV Nation," and films like Roger and Me. He's taken on everything from corporations to television, and now he's on to gun control and violence in America.
With the Columbine school shooting as his centre point, Moore argues that gun violence is caused by many things, including poverty, gun-ownership and a society full of fear. Pointing to the usual targets--like the media, the NRA, corporations, and all other things right wing--much of what he brings up isn't new. However, the satirical way the topic is dealt with, and the simple fact that such ideas are even presented, make Bowling extremely intriguing to watch.
Hardly an example of coherent filmmaking, the two-hour Bowling runs like one of those kids from Family Circus, dodging back and forth, scampering off on tangents, and rambling in aimless directions before getting back to the point. Moore takes us from Columbine footage to South Park-style animation; and from Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols' brother, to Moore's hometown of Flint, Michigan, where a six-year-old shot a schoolmate.
While he goes off in different directions, Moore is fixated on two organizations, the NRA and defense contractor Lockheed Martin. The latter is not only the biggest employer in Littleton, Colorado (the suburb Columbine High School is in) but is also tied to the Flint, Michigan shooting. Though Moore manages to make NRA President Charlton Heston look foolish, his own grandstanding is equally distressing.
Some of the best scenes in the movie actually take place in Canada. Hoping to discover why Canadians abhor violence and what makes our southerly neighbours adore it, Moore visits Ontario. There he finds that although roughly 70 per cent of families here have guns, we (apparently) don't lock our doors and aren't afraid of crime. While many Canadians probably do lock their doors, it's awfully funny to watch the sloppy Moore wander up to a Torontonian's front door, and walk right in.
Another section is equally brilliant, though not at all funny. Moore takes two Columbine survivours--one wheel chair bound, the other with a bullet lodged in his throat--to return merchandise to the K-Mart headquarters. Sounds simple, but in this case the merchandise is the bullets bought at the Littleton K-Mart--still stuck in their bodies.
Sadly, Moore finds it necessary to exaggerate and misrepresent some of his facts. In one section, he tries to show the differences in murder counts per country--but not per capita. Naturally the U.S. would have larger numbers, as they have a much larger population. He could have made his point honestly, but instead loses credibility by trying to show an extreme that does not exist.
Even more depressing is that Moore doesn't find any true conclusions. Essentially, he says Americans are violent and love guns because there's something wrong with them.
However, the nature of that failing is never discovered.
Still, this film will start a much needed conversation about violence, one that's usually started by a school massacre or other violent incident. And regardless of what you think of Michael Moore, Bowling for Columbine is a much better way to start discussion than waiting for another Columbine.