Better This World

Better This World

***

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Brad Crowder and David McKay were friends from childhood. Among other things, they shared the same political values and the same desire to right perceived injustices in the world. In their teens they came into the orbit of charismatic activist Brandon Darby. In 2008 they were arrested in Minnesota, where the Republican Natonal Convention was taking place, and charged with plotting to make pipe bombs. But the real scandal was what happened next.

The documentary equivalent of a courtroom drama, this film picks apart the actions of legal, judicial and investigative authorities throughout the processing of Crowder and McKay's case. It explores allegations of entrapment by an FBI informer and asks whether, if real terrorists fail to appear on schedule, officials concerned about future funding feel obliged to invent them. Were these two young men ever a serious threat to their country? Would they still have formed their plan without encouragement from Darby?

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The question that is glaringly absent from this film is whether it could be legitimate to excuse the men responsibility on the basis of a plea that they were just following orders. Even if something was suggested to them, shouldn't they still have concluded that it was the wrong thing to do? There are interesting psychological arguments that might be explored here and the film is quite one-sided. But this doesn't matter as much as it might, because there are still bigger concerns to be addressed. To put it simply, this documentary might not be needed if it had been possible for the important questions to be addressed at trial.

There was a trial - in fact, there was more than one - but its validity must be called into question by the brutal use of the plea-bargaining system. This, it is argued, is now routinely used to ensure that injustices on the part of the state are not challenged. In other words, it has become a political tool; and biased though the film may be, it's difficult to argue with the evidence presented on this. The film effectively outlines a very worrying situation.

Despite the deep concerns at its core, this isn't a particularly engaging film, in part because it approaches its subject in an over-familiar way using old fashioned documentary techniques that provide little colour. Crowder and McKay, though they seem like nice guys (and look frighteningly young), both have a degree of the emotional distance that people learn in prison, making them hard to connect with. But the essential message is important and there are a number of valuable lessons here for young activists. It's a solid contribution to the developing countercultural narrative.

Reviewed on: 04 Feb 2012
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A dramatic story of idealism, loyalty, and betrayal that reveals a great deal about the culture of protest and the paranoia of post-9/11 America.
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Director: Katie Galloway, Kelly Duane de la Vega

Writer: Katie Galloway, Kelly Duane de la Vega

Starring: Brad Crowder, David McKay, Brandon Darby

Year: 2011

Runtime: 98 minutes

Country: US


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