PARK CITY -- In 1968, amidst riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, cinematographer Haskel Wexler wrapped a fictional story around the footage he was shooting in the streets and created a new genre, blurring the line between fiction and real life, feature and documentary. His film, Medium Cool
, is the model for Stephen Marshall's This Revolution
, shot at the Republican National Convention in New York and completed in an amazing 100 days. It's the kind of engaged, political filmmaking that is rarely seen today, and it's a welcome and powerful addition to the canon.
But no film can get by on good intentions alone. This Revolution
is big on relevance and a bit thin on execution. Still, despite its shortcomings, it's a story that demands to be told and should be seen by as many people as possible. Politically committed filmgoers will no doubt find it a launching pad for heated debate.
Marshall is a seasoned doc director, most recently of Battleground
, a road movie shot in Iraq, and numerous political-minded videos for musicians such as Eminem and 50 cents. So he's got the documentary part of the film covered. Footage leading up to the convention is first-rate and pulses with the energy of the street. It's in the fictional sections that the film gets bogged down and seems least convincing.
To keep things real, Marshall cast Nathan Crooker, a commercial and music video director, as Jake Cassevetes (perhaps the year's most unfortunate name for a character), the wiry, world weary news photographer at the center of This Revolution
. Crooker may give the film verisimilitude but his stiff acting leaves something to be desired.
On the other hand, Rosario Dawson
as Tina, a disillusioned widow whose husband was killed in Iraq, is a dream. She pulls off the difficult feat of being both gritty and beautiful at the same time. After her husband is killed, leaving her as single mother of an adolescent son (Brett Deluono), she starts wondering what she is going to do about it in political terms. Out of frustration, she joins the masked anarchist group the Black Bloc, where she encounters Jake.
Jake has been dispatched by cable network BCN to go underground and shoot radicals planning for the convention. Unbeknownst to him, his opportunistic producer girlfriend Chloe (Amy Redford
) is setting him up for a fall. When he discovers that the network is complicit with the government, he is finally forced to take action.
Circumstances compell the politicization of both Tina and Jake, and therein lies the real value of the film. What the Black Bloc stands for is never coherently explained, and what's on Jake's mind beyond anger at being duped is equally unclear. But even if the film's politics come off as somewhat half-baked, This Revolution makes a persuasive argument for taking some action in the face of the administration's deceit.
Marshall succeeds in capturing the charged, crazy atmosphere where anything can happen. When Jake gets too close with his camera and is beat up by volatile Black Bloc members, the jumpy, hand-hand footage (shot by Brian Jackson) has the feel of a newsreel. The film is at its best when it's impossible to tell the difference between real and staged footage, thanks to smooth editing by Marshall and Crooker. And when Marshall and Dawson are actually arrested while shooting a Black Bloc skirmish, the boundary between life and art totally dissolves.
The play between the real and the make believe gives This Revolution
a certain fascination, proving the validity of the form and the potential for political discourse in a feature film. It's a start and hopefully Marshall's next effort will be more polished without losing any of the raw energy he brings to this film.
A Co.Op production of a Guerrilla News/Revolution Theory action
Credits: Director: Stephen Marshall
Producer: Lisa Kawamoto Hsu
Executive producers: Bob Jason, Bob Kravitz
Director of photography: Brian Jackson
Editor:Marshall, Nathan Crooker
Jake: Nathan Crooker
Tina: Rosario Dawson
Chloe: Amy Redford
Daniel: Brendan Sexton III
BCN News Anchor: Cynthia Garrett
Richie: Brett Delbuono
Immortal Technique: Himself
No MPAA rating
Running time -- 90 minutes