It's hard to remain unmoved by this polemic about sexual assaults in the military
A lot of the time, I sit down for Sundance documentaries just itching for a dose of righteous indignation.
I suspect I'm not alone.
But too often, even documentaries with the best of intentions deliver only partially or else fail to deliver at all.
You read the description of the documentary in the Sundance guide and the topic/thesis is one that you agree with passionately, but then you watch in misery as one thing after another goes wrong. The filmmaker stretches their point beyond its breaking point, or comes up short of a full treatise. The filmmaker properly targets a problem, but has no interest in even hinting at a solution. The filmmaker loses faith in the inherent power of the subject matter and resorts to manipulative editing or overbearing music to jerk the audience around like a puppet. Or the filmmaker is so condescending or full of contempt for the alternative viewpoint that their actual point gets lost in facile name-calling.
You'd think it'd be easy to make a film that stirs the emotions of a Sundance audience that's often easily moved, but I've found that it's far simpler to stumble and squander good will.
That why I'm able to resist criticizing Kirby Dick's "The Invisible War" for not being especially artistically adventurous.
Yes, "The Invisible War" is a reasonably straightforward talking head-driven documentary, opened up mainly with stock footage and a couple scenes taking the characters on the road. Dick ("Sick" "This Film Is Not Yet Rated"), an Oscar and Emmy nominee, has made several previous films that more aggressively challenge viewers in terms of formalism or, more frequently, audience identification with off-kilter characters or circumstances.
What Dick has done with "The Invisible War" is make an audience-mobilizing documentary that hits you in the gut in the opening minutes and doesn't let up, but also avoids a great majority of easy pratfalls. "The Invisible War" doesn't overstay its welcome at 90 minutes, nor does it ever lose confidence in the ability of its subjects to be powerful on their own, without anybody putting their thumb on the scale. It finds a way to be ideologically pragmatic, without ever sacrificing its laser focus, and unrelentingly outraged, without forgetting the need to include a call to action.
And perhaps most importantly, "The Invisible War" may depress you and make you cry, but it'll also probably leave you inspired. It's a portrait of courage as much as victimhood.
[More after the break...]