Michael Moore didn’t win an Oscar for Bowling for Columbine because he’s a good filmmaker but rather because he’s an intelligent one. The world’s premiere provocateur-documentarian’s diatribe about gun control and public fear and paranoia would have failed horribly in someone else’s hands; the message would have flapped around and gasped for air like a fish on a boat deck. But for Moore, who seems perfectly aware and completely at ease with his inability to be objective, makes his own American disgust and self-loathing into something sharp designing his thinly veiled invectives to be as witty as they are lugubrious.
At the center of this crazy universe Moore spins together is the shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, CO in 1999 and from there he builds his case against America’s flagrant attitude towards gun ownership and consequently the climate of fear that grows with it. The film wanders off of topic constantly attributing paranoia of Africanized bees to rampant racism and consciously confusing the audience with what it means to be a gun enthusiast and a killer. In these moments it is clearest that Moore can’t seem to (and actually doesn’t ever) gather satisfactory answers to his questions: Why does Canada experience a tenth of the shooting murders that the U.S. does even when it has an almost equal volume of gun ownership? In the mean time it fun though to watch him goad the seemingly endless supply of gullible talking heads. He still manages to strike a strong note of seriousness and respect for the situations he investigates like the footage shown unembellished from security cameras running at Columbine during the shootings. Perhaps the strongest reflective moment as well as a wonderfully human one is Moore’s interview with rockstar Marilyn Manson, accused as the inspiration for the murders, who despite his shocking appearance responds with intelligence and insight as well as sympathy and grace.
Moore effortlessly achieves what he set out to do: the point isn’t to present a balanced argument on the issue but rather to inspire your conversion to his personal views. He finds average simple-minded citizens who are readily identifiable as ones who put no forethought into their answers and asks them questions that he knows will be answered haphazardly – the final interview with then NRA president Charlton Heston is as itchy and uncomfortable as it is compelling to watch. Concordantly he weeds out interviewees who are identifiable as sympathizers. It’s clear Moore thinks he blowing some kind of whistle, though when you boil the film down to its basic elements it appears to be more of a shock and awe blockbuster rather than a slice of non-fiction cinema. This isn’t to say Bowling is not educated and well read, but engineered to foster sympathy for Moore’s antagonized cause? It’s moving political art at genius level, crafted expertly to elicit passion and emotion (which it does) but its still entertainment. As the film goes on, it’s no surprise that this was the first documentary to ever be shown at the Cannes Film Festival.