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Bowling for Columbine (2002)
Rated R

Starring: Michael Moore, Charlton Heston, and John Nichols

Rating:
****
out of
*****

To say that America is gun-crazy is an understatement. Gun culture is everywhere. As children, boys and girls will play "Cowboys and Indians." Violent movies and violent videogames are tremendously popular. Gangsta rap music, with its constant depictions of gun-toting thugs, is increasingly popular with suburban youth. Are videogames, music and movies the reason that the United States has the highest number of gun murders in the world? Or is it something else?

Filmmaker Michael Moore tackles the issue in Bowling for Columbine, a look at America's fascination with guns and the violence that results. The movie asks more questions than it answers but the fact that it has the guts to ask the questions -- especially in this day and age of blind patriotism -- is admirable and, on that merit alone, make the film worth seeing.

The film's title comes from the fact that, on the morning of April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the two teenage boys responsible for the single worst school shooting in U.S. history, went bowling before going off to kill people. Moore uses the Columbine massacre to anchor the film, which allows him to face off against Charlton Heston, president of the National Rifle Association, who appeared in Colorado less than 10 days after the killings. It also allows him to to interview Marilyn Manson, who was blamed by some people for the Columbine killings because Harris and Klebold were supposedly fans of his. (They weren't.) Manson delivers one of the most eloquent and effective interviews in the film which, I'm sure, will surprise a lot of people. The Heston interview is an anti-climax, because Heston doesn't seem to be all that interested in making his case. (Heston has since come forward to say that he suffers from Alzheimer's Disease, which might play a role in his answers.)

The film is not really anti-gun. In fact, as the film points out, Canada has a similar love affair with guns but, for some reason, lacks the murder rate of the United States. Moore argues that the media force-feeds fear into the American psyche and that makes Americans more prone to solving problems with a gun than other citizens of other countries with the same access to guns, videogames and violent movies. This seems very logical and, had the movie concentrated on this point, it would have been much more effective. However, Moore dilutes the film with a rant about the welfare-to-work program and trying to pin a large amount of blame for the Columbine shooting on Lockheed-Martin, who employs parents in Colorado and, coincidentally, participates in the welfare-to-work program. These diversions, while possibly valid, are misguided and unnecessary.

When he's on track, Moore makes a lot of interesting observations and even more valid points. He even manages to achieve a small victory in the fight against the sales of handgun ammunition with one of his tactics in the film. With more attention paid to the core of the problem, he might have achieved even more with Bowling for Columbine. Flaws aside, this film should be required viewing for teenagers or anyone else who believes everything they see on television.

Trivia: Michael Moore is also the author of Stupid White Men. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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