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(2002) (Michael Moore) (R)

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Documentary: A half serious-half humorous look at violence and gun ownership in America.
Documentary filmmaker Michael Moore takes a look at violence and gun ownership in America and raises various questions about what causes so many gun-related shootings here as compared to in other countries. Mixing real and fabricated footage, the film also contains interviews and material involving the likes of Charlton Heston, Matt Stone, Marilyn Manson, various gun owners and two survivors of the mass murder at Columbine High School.
OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
If there's one thing we can agree upon in America, it's that we're likely to disagree - often vehemently - on most any topic. Although there are plenty of hot button issues that come under debate, few are as contentious as gun control. After all, the Second Amendment gives everyone the right to bear arms, but then again, a great many people are killed each year in the U.S. via gunfire.

Provocative documentary filmmaker Michael Moore explores all of that and a great deal more in his latest film, "Bowling For Columbine." Named for what Columbine High School students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold did the morning of April 20, 1999 before gunning down 12 students, 1 teacher and then shooting themselves, the "documentary" is much like Moore's previous efforts such as "Roger and Me" and "The Big One."

Namely, that means that despite examining both sides of the story, the director's viewpoint and agenda are more than just worn on his sleeve. They're also emblazoned on the side of his ever-present camera. Whether that's good or bad depends on whether you want an unbiased, truthful documentary or don't mind some artistic license taken with the material as well as whether or not you agree with his message.

Whatever the case, there's no denying that Moore is probably one of the most entertaining and thought-provoking provocateurs at work in the cinema today. Part shocking, part incendiary and often rather funny, his work is certainly apt to generate as much controversy as it uncovers.

Like his other films, this one starts out with a specific intention - namely examining America's love of the gun - but eventually starts to lose some of its focus and then rambles on about a variety of topics, and various theories and/or accusations that ultimately aren't proven and raise a lot of questions without answering any of them.

For instance, Moore tries to establish a connection between the Columbine shootings and the fact that arms manufacturer Lockheed Martin has a plant there in Littleton, as if the violent intentions of the manufacturing process somehow managed to influence the boys subliminally. He also brings up the U.S. government's actions around the world and over time demonstrating that violence is the accepted solution to any number of problems.

The first part allows for Moore's standard ambush on the spot type of interview (accompanied by subsequent, careful and calculated editing to get his political or humorous message across). The latter, however, does prompt one to think about how many of the government's efforts and funding of certain groups to depose others have later come around to bite us in the gluteus maximus.

It's in the smaller scale, individual moments, however, where the film really hits its stride. There's a bit about a real bank that hands out rifles for opening an account, while another shows the unfortunate but not altogether unexpected results of mounting a rifle on your dog's back. Moore also interviews the brother of one of the Oklahoma City bombers (who does keep a gun under his pillow) and includes a hilarious animated segment by South Park co-creator Matt Stone (who also attended Columbine H.S.) that shows the history of white people in America. By doing so, the film quickly alternates between eliciting disbelief, shock and big belly laughs.

While it obviously focuses a great deal on the tragic events at Columbine, the film eventually segues into a lengthy examination of why America is so violent as compared to other countries that have the same violent entertainment and similar amounts of guns, etc.

That leads to an examination of Canadians (who never lock their doors if you're to believe what's presented here); shock rocker Marilyn Manson (who was accused of influencing the shooters but has some valid theories about fear in America); and an interview with NRA president Charlton Heston (who showed up for a big pro-gun rally just days after Columbine and then again following a Michigan killing involving a 6-year-old shooter).

Moore obviously has his sights set on taking Heston down (in an agreed upon interview), but the former Moses manages to shoot himself in the foot with a rather shocking statement about what he thinks is really wrong with this country.

Although you have to take everything in Moore's film - including his ever-present mug appearing on camera - with a large grain of salt - you can't argue with the fact that he's chosen an issue that's likely to evoke strong reactions from all viewers.

While he never comes up with any viable answer or solution to the issues he raises (although he sticks a big pudgy finger at the news media for inspiring fear and paranoia among its viewers), the filmmaker has delivered the most provocative film of the year that's also highly entertaining, thought-provoking and even moving (despite the obvious manipulation).

Not for all viewers - especially those who won't like or agree with his various stances and agendas - "Bowling For Columbine" might not roll a strike every time with its material, but there are enough spares to make this a winning effort. The film rates as a 7 out of 10.

Reviewed October 9, 2002 / Posted November 8, 2002

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