A review of “Bowling for Columbine” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: R for language and violence

Run Time: 2 hours, 5 minutes

 

 

When documentarian Michael Moore is on a mission, there’s no escaping his high-profile, throat-grabbing tactics and fascinating statistics.  In the startling, disturbing, and laugh-out-loud funny “Columbine”, Moore explores America’s alarming obsession with handguns, and poses the question: why is America the most violent nation on earth?

In the name of comprehensive research, Moore reaches out for answers.  From an intimate of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, who believes it’s an American’s responsibility to be armed.  To the survivors of the tragic shootings at Columbine High School.  To executives at Lockheed-Martin, the world’s largest weapons manufacturer (coincidentally headquartered in Littleton, Colorado). 

 In Moore’s adept hands, America seems like a pretty scary place. Statistics roll across the screen, and they’re astonishing.  One hundred and sixty five gun-related deaths in the United Kingdom last year, as opposed to over 11,000 in the U.S.  America’s covert involvement in an historical succession of brutal bloodbaths. Security camera footage from the Columbine massacre, among other notoriously cruel acts, is unsettling and powerfully affecting.

The laughs may be at the expense of our shortcomings, but they’re hilarious.  Moore sniffs out some new business at Michigan’s North County Bank, and discovers that the institution is offering a “More Bang for Your Buck” special – a shiny new rifle with each new CD Account.

Moore is the King of Squirm. Watch his docu-victims (eagerly lapping up their 15-minutes of fame) slowly crumble in the hot seat as realization dawns that Moore is making patsies of them with voyeuristic design.  Professing lifelong membership to the National Rifle Association (truth), Moore talks his way into NRA spokesperson Charlton Heston’s home, and cunningly rakes him over the coals for appearing at a Flint, Michigan rally immediately following a local elementary school handgun slaying.

Though Moore is certainly entitled to the freedoms of his research and his reality-TV sensibilities, one gets the sense that he’s setting out to provoke, rather than to seek out honest answers.  His scruffy, unkempt appearance masks a persistent arrogance that compels him to belabor his point, an exercise that augments his project with thirty superfluous minutes that dilute a persuasive message about America’s future.