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Bowling for Columbine

Reviewed By Rob Gonsalves
Posted 01/05/07 23:21:04

"Moore offers questions here, not answers, and the result is his best work."
5 stars (Awesome)

Why is it, wonders Michael Moore in his lacerating documentary 'Bowling for Columbine,' that America leads the world in the number of gun killings?

Surely it can't be our pop culture (violent movies, video games, heavy metal) -- we make sure other countries get the same junk, and it doesn't make Japanese or French kids shoot anyone. Broken homes? Well, Great Britain has us beat in that department. Unemployment? Though nowhere near rosy, we're sitting pretty as compared with other first-world nations. Guns? Could it be? Well, a surprised Moore discovers that our neighbors to the north have seven million guns, yet not only do Canadians not shoot each other -- they hardly even lock their doors.

Bowling for Columbine (the title refers to the bowling class that Columbine killers Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris reportedly attended the morning of April 20, 1999, and may also be a metaphor for America's set-'em-up-knock-'em-down mentality) is an inquiry into why we appear to be a nation of destructive sociopaths. It could not come at a better time, when our (s)elected president obviously itches to go to war to settle his daddy's score no matter what anyone else says, and when American belligerence and fear are at a pitch probably not seen since the Red Scare of the '50s. And there's your answer right there: Hostility and paranoia, says Moore, are a toxic cocktail flooding the veins of the country and triggering the fight-or-flight reflex endlessly. The most invincible power in the world is afraid of its own shadow.

And that shadow is dark, long and bloody. Moore inserts, to the tune of Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World," a mini-history lesson on the offenses America has committed, right up to bankrolling the very people (Saddam, Osama) we've now adopted as boogeymen (it ends with a sobering, unblinking view of the plane hitting the second tower, the defining moment of the new national mood). He also shows us an irreverent short cartoon on the history of the United States as a string of overreactive jitters. Maybe America sleeps the troubled sleep of a schoolyard bully who knows his reign of aggression and ignorance can't last.

When it's not serious, BFC is often a knee-slapper, in Moore's familiar can-you-believe-what-you-just-heard ironic style. Camper Van Beethoven's absurdist "Take the Skinheads Bowling" under the opening titles sets the tone. Moore gets his usual mileage out of sneak-attack tactics, undeniably unfair but effective. A good part of the film's third act deals with Moore's response to the school shooting of one six-year-old by another, in Moore's hometown of Flint, Michigan. The mother of the young shooter worked in Dick Clark's chain restaurant; Moore tries and fails to get Clark to comment on why the mother was so overworked she had no way of knowing that her son had gotten his uncle's gun. When Charlton Heston brings a pro-gun NRA rally to Flint days after the shooting (just as he did near Littleton ten days after Columbine), Moore wants to know why; Heston has no answer.

Moore doesn't really, either. Bowling for Columbine isn't nearly as populist-righteous as his earlier broadsides against corporate swine Roger & Me and The Big One, his TV series TV Nation and The Awful Truth, or his bestselling book Stupid White Men. For all its gallows humor and choked laughter of disbelief, it feels rather soul-sick and bewildered. The voices of sanity are few and far between -- and, in the case of Marilyn Manson, unlikely (Manson won points with me when, asked what he would have said to Klebold and Harris, he says "I wouldn't have a single thing to say. I'd just listen to them -- because nobody else was"). Towards the end there's a victory of sorts: Moore and two kids who still have bullets from the Columbine shooting in their bodies -- Mark Taylor, who has trouble walking, and Richard Castaldo, who's in a wheelchair -- go to K-mart, the source of the killers' 9mm bullets, and ask them to stop selling them. After some runaround, K-mart actually agrees, to the visible surprise of Moore. But it's a pyrrhic victory: the kids still carry that metal around, and thirteen others carried it to their graves.

'Bowling for Columbine' is not so much a rallying cry as a call for sense, stability, sanity. We can only hope that someday the film will seem very dated and quaint. Right now, it doesn't.

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