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Bowling for Columbine (15)

Review by: Heather Metherell | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Theatrical trailer.

IT'S NOT often that a film leaves you so stunned by its content that you can't speak, or so moved by its message that you feel the need to gather everyone in from the streets to see it for themselves - but that's exactly what Michael Moore's latest feature length documentary, Bowling for Columbine, does.

Thirteen years after his debut with the critically-acclaimed Roger & Me, Moore returns with a no-holds barred investigation into American gun culture, centring on the Columbine High School massacre of 1999.

For those of you who are familiar with Moore's television programmes, The Awful Truth and Michael Moore's TV Nation, it won't come as a surprise that this incredible, hard-hitting documentary is as laugh-out-loud funny, as it is distressing. Yet, it is this strange mix of humour and heartbreaking tragedy that makes it so unique, and so deeply moving.

After watching the film, I felt I had entered the cinema completely naive to the gravity of the problem America has with its gun culture. In a way, I had dismissed the American love affair with weaponry as almost comical, seeing an American with a gun, just as I see a French man with a baguette. It has become a part of their international stereotype.

What Moore's clever film does, however, is to mix disturbing facts and figures with a satirical look at what a gun means to the average American. It begins with Moore opening an account at a bank, where the free gift for joining is a gun. As cheekily as ever, Moore then proceeds to ask a member of staff: "Isn't it a bit dangerous handing out guns in a bank?"

The film then follows Moore on a journey around smalltown America, concentrating on Littleton, Colorado, the home of the Columbine shootings.

We see previously unseen footage of the security tapes from the cameras in the cafeteria on the morning of the mass murder that claimed the lives of 12 students, including some tremendously affecting footage of the father of one of the victims, protesting at a National Rifle Association (NRA) gun rally that visited Columbine only a week after the tragedy.

Equally as distressing is a look at the bigger picture, as we are given the history of American intervention over the past 50 years, including the day the nation conducted the largest bombing in the Kosovo War - which just happened to be the same day as the Columbine mass murder.

There was a combined intake of breath when the number of annual gun-related deaths in other countries, such as Canada (165) and Great Britain (68), was compared to America's whopping 11,127.

Yet anyone thinking that this is a heavy-handed, preachy affair, packed with alarming facts and figures that are better suited to programmes such as Panorama, rather than the Big Screen, had best think again. Part of Moore's appeal lies in the charm and genuine concern he displays for the subject, which makes his interviews so interesting.

He seems to manage to ask the questions everyone would love to ask, without the interviewee being aware of it, and even manages to get an interview with Charlton Heston, president of the NRA, which extracts an outrageous response.

Another fascinating aspect about the subject choice is the fact that Moore, himself, is a lifetime member of the NRA, and a self-confessed patriot, so his profound questioning of the American dream seems all the more legitimate.

This is a film that everyone should see, which should also be made compulsory viewing in schools the world over. Never before have I felt so united with other members of a cinema audience, as we all experienced shock, tears and laughter simultaneously. Bowling For Columbine is a must see!


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