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Bowling for Columbine

By Kam Williams
Published January 30, 2006

Michael Moore, who seems to delight in annoying establishment types in front of the unblinking eye of his hand-held camera, has never been better than in Bowling For Columbine.

Why do Americans seem so inclined to slaughter one another? While our murder rate routinely reaches over 10,000 per year, countries such as Japan, Sweden and England only average about a hundred. What explains the incredible disparity between the U.S. and all of the other civilized nations? The ready availability of guns? An air of paranoia? The NRA? Our violent legacy? Devil-worshipping rock music? Violence on TV? The 2nd Amendment? Prejudice? Poverty? The militaristic state? All of the above?              
          Lucky for us, Michael Moore has once again waded into some rather murky waters to weigh in on a very thorny subject. Moore, the ever-disheveled documentarian, burst on the scene in 1989 with Roger & Me, a searing exposé of the effect of a tidal wave of unemployment on his hometown of Flint, Michigan. There, he deftly juxtaposed the country club lifestyle of General Motors CEO Roger Smith with the dire straits of the company’s laid-off employees.
          After that brilliant debut, Moore brought his muckraking brand of investigative journalism to television in The Awful Truth and TV Nation, a couple of critically-acclaimed, if short-lived, series. Recently, the social gadfly converted his “in your face” video style into a best-selling book, Stupid White Men...And Other Sorry Excuses For The State Of The Nation.
          But Moore, who seems to delight in annoying establishment types in front of the unblinking eye of his hand-held camera, has never been better than in Bowling For Columbine. Here, he dons his trademark baseball cap as producer, writer, director and, of course, inquisitor. When not implicating Charlton Heston, Wal-Mart, Kmart, Michigan militiamen and Lockheed-Martin as unintended co-conspirators, the film splices in shocking footage from Columbine, the World Trade Center and other senseless crimes caught in progress.
          Then there are interviews with assorted celebs, such as South Park co-creator Matt Stone, who admits to modeling the irreverent TV cartoon on Columbine, the otherwise unremarkable city where he grew up. A panicky Dick Clark gets cornered because of a murder very loosely linked to one of his restaurants, and rock musician Manson is interrogated because his music appears to be the favorite of Goths, the Trenchcoat Mafia and other ill-inclined teens.
          Most touching, however, is the time allotted to the survivors, their families and friends. For instance, Moore takes a couple of kids, crippled at Columbine High, to Kmart to return the ammo, originally bought there, that is still imbedded in their bullet-ridden bodies. They challenge the company chairman to take a share of responsibility for the tragedy and, after the expected initial resistance, meet with more success than they’d even hoped for.
          While certain to leave you choking with tears, the film has its lighter moments too, such as when Moore opens an account at a bank offering a free gun to any new customer. Or his chat with a clueless kid who sees nothing wrong with making a five-gallon bomb of napalm in his backyard. Or the one with militiaman John Nichols (brother of Oklahoma bomber Terry), who sounds ready to overthrow the government but has never heard of Gandhi.
          The movie takes its ghoulish title from the last class Columbine conspirators Dylan Kliebold and Eric Harris attended before embarking on their bloody rampage. The insatiably curious Moore even tracks down the two girls with whom the killers shared a lane that morning to find o

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated R for profanity, violence and some very disturbing news footage.