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Movie Review: Bowling for Columbine

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Let's face it. Michael Moore’s films just wouldn’t be as entertaining without the liberties that he takes with the facts, the way he twists certain ones while omitting certain others for cinematic purposes. I can understand the problems many people have with his films, but I find if you take it all with a grain of salt, they are very satisfying film experiences. No truer is that than with Bowling for Columbine.

The film takes a look at the gun issue in the United States, exploring how guns are so readily available to people of all ages and why America has more deaths from guns in a year than any other country in the world.

I would be surprised if any average movie-goer out there watched Bowling for Columbine and came away feeling apathetic or unaffected. Moore’s techniques, through montage, selective inclusion of certain images, and twisting of facts, and the like, conjure emotion from the viewer, some that you may not have thought a film could elicit from you. It’s a very well constructed film, despite its manipulative nature, and it’s possibly one of the documentaries for people in the field to study before making their own.

Like all of Moore’s films, it's a great discussion and debate starter. The first time I watched it I had a lengthy discussion with someone not only about how the film is constructed and the techniques Moore uses to get his desired effect, but on the gun issue in America that the film explores. Like him or not, Moore is terrific at persuasive showmanship; he takes a hot topic and exploits it in great depth, again twisting and omitting certain things for desired effect. The film is entertaining, powerful, and a lot of the time surprisingly funny; not in what it’s about, as much of it is deadly serious stuff, but Moore’s written dialogue (mainly in his narration) and, again, the way he constructs it all elicit the sort of shocked but amused reactions that are rarely encountered in cinema.

Not only is a lot of the footage skillfully constructed by Moore to get across a certain point he’s trying to make, but there are also a lot of scenes that could have been set up before the camera started rolling. Most of the film isn’t like this, although a lot of it is very unusual — for example, his conversations with rocker Marilyn Manson and the brother of one of the Oklahoma City bombers — but there are occasions, predominantly the interview with the now late Charlton Heston, where we just don’t know if it’s real or set up. Moore is so skillful in his execution of the film that it’s pretty much impossible to tell the fake from the genuine.

Occasionally Moore leans a bit too much over the deep end of things. Some of his logic, although ultimately plausible if you go with him, is stretching on his part and it takes great effort to see where he’s coming from in those moments. He also chooses to not include some things which are just too important not to be annoyed about. For instance, not once does Moore mention gun safety but rather takes the after-effects of the lack of gun safety and parades it blatantly in front of you. Although I appreciate Moore’s way of going about things, I can still admit that there were times where the film didn’t convince me of Moore's arguments.

I think the effect that the film ultimately has on the viewer would be because of how well it's constructed. Take, for example, a scene in which he is interviewing a student who was in the same year as one of the Columbine killers. Moore could have simply shown the interview with him from start to finish but rather he chooses to inter-cut the young man's talking with shots of him playing a violent video game or playing a related game when he talks about building a tennis ball bomb. Although ultimately this is just technique for effect, it is nonetheless a great example of how well Moore has constructed the film.

There are faults, certainly, with Bowling for Columbine but when a documentary can be made so downright entertaining and appealing to a mass audience that otherwise wouldn’t look sideways at the genre, it’s a thing to appreciate. Much like surrealist filmmaker David Lynch – love him or hate him – Moore is one talented filmmaker.

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