Dinesh D’Souza is an interesting guy when it comes to political movies. Recently convicted of a variant of election fraud, D’Souza has made headlines for both films he’s released covering President Obama in office as well as the shenanigans of his personal life. In many ways his recent life has mirrored that of Michael Moore‘s, perhaps the world’s most famous political documentary film-maker, as America: Imagine the World Without Her is a pseudo-response to the pantheon of Moore documentaries.
The standard for most cinema goers has been the pseudo-nonfiction of Moore, who combines a fictional narrative and staged scenes with genuinely intriguing moments to try to push a narrative featuring his progressive leftist point of view. It’s now become the standard by which most documentary filmmakers have taken their films; the genre as a whole has gone from subject centric to director centric, making the genre more intimate but at the same time less focused. Documentary filmmakers are now seemingly more interested in themselves first, their subject second, as a true exploration of a subject becomes diluted as many documentarians are focused on turning a subject into a star-making vehicle of their own.
For better or worse Michael Moore changed the way we looked at the documentary; now the ones that tend to find an audience become director centric instead of subject centric. It’s interesting to see how D’Souza takes a personal journey in defense of what he perceives as vicious attacks on it from various perspectives. America follows D’Souza as he details a number of arguments, focusing on Howard Zinn’s flawed historical opus “The People’s History of the United States” as the foundation of the arguments being presented.
Going through each of them with a fine detail for history, D’Souza presents an argument for American exceptionalism as opposed to the blaming of the world’s problems on the shoulders of American greed that D’Souza presents as the Zinn argument. Going through it with details countering it from history’s annals, D’Souza on the surface presents a very compelling argument for his case. D’Souza isn’t the best speaker, fairly perfunctory even by the standards of the genre, but he’s a terrific interviewer and gets some compelling and interesting arguments from people on both sides of the aisle that he interviews. He is able to craft a compelling narrative and give us enough of a taste of the other side to make himself like the reasonable person at all times.
It’s an interesting technique that Moore pioneered, one a man worth $50 million with expansive property can turn into the rage of a “working man from Flint,” and D’Souza has essentially crafted himself as the immigrant turned American citizen who sees the best in America (despite its flaws). D’Souza has positioned himself as this immigrant from India who has achieved the American dream that is decried by the people who position themselves opposite him.
The problem is that D’Souza has essentially taken the people on the fringe and made them into what he’s appropriating as the mainstream. It’s not hard to seem reasonable when vapid celebrities who marginally understand what they profess to believe are meshed with the fringes of political thought into what D’Souza is positing as mainstream. It’s easy to be appear just right of center and relentlessly positive, while also appearing fairly reasonable, when the things your opponents say (carefully edited, much like Moore) appear far from the center where most people reside.
It becomes the problem with the film as a whole. He’s preaching to a certain segment by showing the arguments they regurgitate as their opponent’s in the same way Moore does. It’s a slight of hand that you don’t catch early on if you’re not paying attention. D’Souza is playing the same three card monty that Moore plays but for an audience with his viewpoint as opposed to the one Moore panders to. It’s the same gimmick but done from a different angle, much like how modern crime films have cribbed from westerns enough to be recognizable but different enough to feel fresh and new.
It’s the same thing he did in 2016: Obama’s America. It is clever editing, really, and he knows how to bait his subjects into saying things that he can later undercut by appearing more reasonable by just being not nearly as much of an extremist as his subjects appear to be. America is an interesting work, and convincing if you’re in the congregation being preached to, but it’s as much political farce as Fahrenheit 9/11 is.
A handful of deleted and scenes and the full, unedited interviews with a handful of people are included.
Lionsgate presents America. Directed by Dinesh D’Souza Runtime: 105 miutes. Rating: PG-13. Released: October 28, 2014.
Tags: America: Imagine the World Without Her, Dinesh D'Souza