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Bowling for Columbine (2002)

  Directed by: Michael Moore
Starring: Charlton Heston, Marilyn Manson, Michael Moore
Links: Bowling for Columbine on the IMDb, Official site, Buy on Video, Buy on DVD
Genre: Documentary

This movie gets: 7.67 (3 ratings) Ranking: Ranked equal 77th of 187 movies (2 ratings minimum; see full chart)

Bowling for Columbine (2002) is also mentioned in pearly's review of Brother's Keeper (1992), em_fiction's review of Elephant (2003), timchuma's review of Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004), pearly's review of Spellbound (2002) and pearly's review of Super Size Me (2004).

"Too much Moore?" - a review by mino

Ahh, Michael Moore. Poster-boy of the ‘new left’, professional agent provocateur extraordinaire. Sticking up for the average working schlub, sticking it to the man, and bringing ultra-liberal sentiment back into the public consciousness. He's the hero of modern anti-establishment politics, and half of the world loves him for it.

The only problem? Well, I'm a long way to the left myself — probably somewhere near where Mr Moore is himself. And, you know, I don't think he's really always all that helpful to The Cause at all.

Sure, Moore's stunts — and that's what Bowling for Columbine is, a series of stunts, centred around an investigation into why exactly the USA has such a culture of gun violence — bring a lot of attention to his points of view. And seein' as how my points of view largely agree with his, I should think that's a good thing. But I don't. Because unlike, say, trying to sell soft drink, when it comes to politics, any publicity is not good publicity.

Realistically, I'm not sure what the point of a movie like this is. Getting people to think about serious issues affecting society is a noble goal, and Moore certainly achieves that. But he does it in such a way that I can't imagine him convincing many people of his point of view. Most people who will be stroking their beards and saying ‘yes, good point’ are probably people who agreed with Moore's politics to start with anyway, or were at least amenable to them.

The problem is, those who disagree with Moore are, I suspect, unlikley to find Columbine to be a conversion-inducing film, because it's too easy to dismiss. Moore makes excellent points, and argues his case well. He uses statistics well, and makes the discussion accessible without dumbing it down too much. However, he spoils it by making the most easily dismissable piece of propaganda I've seen in a while. Some of his dodgy, sensationalist editing, for example — taking people out of context, picking and choosing what he wants the viewer to hear — are so laughably obvious that you pay more attention to what's been cut than to what's been left in.

Most aggravatingly, he persists in his trademark stupid stunts which, while usually entertaining and informative, still go too far sometimes just for the sake of it. For example, one portion of the film is devoted to hassling Dick Clark over something that happened to an employee at a Clark-owned chain restaurant. Clark is hassled in his car over something that, on the face of it, doesn't really seem to be his problem. There are arguments that could be made for Clark having to take some responsibility, perhaps, but Moore doesn't make those arguments. He just hassles Clark as he's about to be driven off in his car, and assumes we'll follow his lead and think that Clark's the bad guy. Does this achieve anything? Well, yes. It makes Moore look like an idiot. Moore's hassling of Charlton Heston is moderately more impressive, as he concentrates more on arguing logically than cheap stunts, but at the end it degenerates into more of the same.

The problem is, no matter how good Moore's other arguments, it's far too easy for people to go ‘look, he does stupid stunts like that’, focus on the over-the-top bits, and basically write him off as a debator on the basis of his silly tricks, which is ultimately less than helpful.

Probably the highlight of Columbine is Moore's interview with Marilyn Manson, which is actually very interesting. Manson copped a great deal of the blame for the school shootings in Columbine, and to hear his perspective on things is very interesting. I have little time for the man's music, but it's hard not to come away thinking that he's a lot more intelligent than he's ever going to get credit for.

The other highlight is the South Park-esque short film on the history of violence in American culture, made by that show's creators, Matt Stone and Trey Parker. This cartoon is savagely brilliant, and reminds you of what South Park was like when it used to be funny (i.e., the first season).

Bowling for Columbine is an entertaining movie, to be sure, and is certainly thought-provoking. But as a documentary, and as propaganda, I think it's ‘flawed’ and ‘counterproductive’, respectively.

mino gives this movie 6 out of 10.
Review created on Fri 26 Mar 2004

"The Awful Truth: The Movie" - a review by pearly

Anyone who is familiar with Michael Moore's television show The Awful Truth, will know of his guerilla documentary film-making style. Bowling for Columbine is certainly no exception to this format. Moore gets his unique footage by bombarding people with unexpected questions, and hoping for interesting reactions (he often gets them).

If you are a regular watcher of the show, then you'll pretty soon realise that Bowling for Columbine is essentially a movie-length version of the show. Some of the material used (such as corporate crime fighting) is even rehashed from the show, and changed slightly - almost as if Moore was hoping to reach a new audience with the film, and therefore wanted to show his best material (ala the Mr Bean movie, Bean (1997)).

Interestingly, for a piece made by Michael Moore, the conclusions that the film comes to are a little wishy-washy. With Moore, you can usually tell where the thing is headed within the first twenty seconds or so (cigarette company = evil, gay haters = bad etc.), but with Bowling for Columbine, Moore actually appears unsure as to what the problem he is chasing is all about. He knows it's something to do with guns, but beyond that, he's looking for answers. I imagine this comes about because he has more time to play with the topic, and can therefore look into it in a more detailed way, and perhaps with a more even brushstroke.

Some of the interviews that the film contains are fantastic to watch. They can make you (and the interviewees, I'm sure) shift uncomfortably in your seat - it's almost like watching a train that's about to crash (Moore mixes this seriousness with intervals of comedy; his way of making people see his stuff, instead of it being too boring to consume). The interview with gun advocate Charlton Heston is a good example of this, but there's also the harassing of K-Mart employees, in an attempt to get them to stop selling bullets; which, being an Australian, is mind-blowing; bullets sold in K-Mart?! Moore also chats with Marilyn Manson, who has been accused of being (partially) responsible for some teen shootings, because of his dark brand of music (the eye makeup, whacky contact lenses and horrifically white skin probably have something to do with it too). Manson actually sounds surprisingly more cohesive in his arguments than most of the other people that Moore talks to (though he probably had forewarning, unlike the others).

Bowling for Columbine doesn't contain the best camera-work or sound, in fact, quite the opposite. But that's not the point. The point is to present things that make people think, hopefully about things they haven't bothered thinking about before, and that shock. Some of the footage is quite disturbing (security camera footage from Columbine high school, for example), some of the things discussed may make you want to switch off. Bowling for Columbine isn't an easy watch (unless you're part of the desensitised generation X). But I think that what Moore wants more than anything, is to present some alternative to the nightly news, and in this, he certainly succeeds. The film is worth watching, even if it is taken with a grain of salt - and even though it is totally America-centric, the message is still relevant to Australians: we surely shouldn't be wanting to follow in America's footsteps with everything we do. Except for McDonalds. That place rules.

pearly gives this movie 8 out of 10.
Review created on Wed 15 Jan 2003

Movie review statistics

Ratings given without reviews:

Number of reviews: 2
Number of ratings: 3
Average rating: 7.67
Lowest rating: 6 (by mino)
Highest rating: 9 (by em_fiction)
Rating Percentage

Reader comments

  1. I do love this movie. It portrays the tradegy, I think, in a dignified sort of way, letting the people he (Moore) interviews tell the story more than telling it himself.

    I showed it to my english class two years ago. They all thought it was wonderful, for the same reason as mine - and also because he also manages to bring a bit of humor into the situation, without making a mockery of the event at Columbine High.

    Maria Brejner

    Rating given: 10

    A comment from Maria Brejner on Sat 22 Jul 2006 08:36 #

Those who have commented give this movie: 10.00 (1 rating)

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