An Oscar-winning documentary based around a 1999 massacre at an American High School in Colorado, "Bowling for Columbine" is filmmaker Michael Moore's take on the culture of firearms violence that is, apparently, peculiar to the USA. Significantly, this is no detective investigation into the psychology and motives of the two students who randomly opened fire on their classmates, killing 12 of them--Moore regards such particulars as practically irrelevant--rather, it's an attempt to counter the moral panic and right-wing diagnoses that followed the massacre, with the likes of rock star Marilyn Manson blamed by some.
Using a mixture of roving interviews, statistics, historical documentary footage, cartoon animation and the set-ups familiar to fans of his "TV Nation" series, Moore teases out appalling truths about gun proliferation in America. He's able to obtain a rifle by opening a bank account and shows that the bullets used in the Columbine massacre were still available at KMart--until he confronts their management with victims of the shootings. But it's not just gun proliferation that's the problem. Canada, Moore discovers, is similarly rife with firearms yet has a far lower murder rate. The problem with the US, Moore believes, is an irrational climate of fear that has driven the country to reactionary extremes since the days of the pioneers, persuading citizens that they need to be armed to the teeth.
In a film short on lowlights, the highlight is Moore's confrontation with NRA President Charlton Heston. Moore's deceptively genial, shambling, regular American dude appearance (as well as his NRA membership) wins Heston's confidence and Moore teases from the actor an inadvertently racist slip of the tongue, before turning up the heat, at which point Heston terminates the interview. In this moment, the sort of anger Moore demonstrated at the 2003 Academy Awards ceremony surfaces briefly as he brandishes a picture of a gunshot victim to the retreating Heston. Funny, shrewd, righteous, hard to deny, "Bowling for Columbine" is uncomfortable and irresistible filmmaking. --"David Stubbs"