Let It Fall


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Let It Fall
"The quality of each piece of testimony is left for the viewer to assess, and those who come to the film knowing nothing are likely to find their impressions of some the participants shifting over the course of it."

On the third of March 1991, a man called George Holliday, who had recently acquired a brand new video camera, witnessed something strange from the window of his Los Angeles home. Zooming in with the camera, he saw four white police officers gathered round a black man who was lying on the ground, beating him repeatedly with metal batons. The footage he recorded was the first record of its kind to make it onto the news, not only in California but worldwide. It etched itself into the public consciousness - and would do so again when, on the 29th of April 1992, three of the officers were acquitted on all counts.

Few people who saw Holliday's footage at the time have forgotten it. Rodney King, who survived the beating but died from drowning in 2012, became an accidental celebrity, variously lauded and monstered in the media as if expected to embody black America. But what was the state of race relations in Los Angeles before the incident? Why did the police act as they did? Where did their metal batons come from? Who made the decisions that took the city to the brink, and how did ordinary people find their lives transformed as a result?

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There is archive footage of interviews with King included here, but by and large the success of John Ridley's documentary comes from taking him out of the picture. After all, he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Instead, the focus here is on cases of conflict between police and private citizens that took place over the previous decade, and on the decisions that were made as a result. In 2014, the choke hold favoured by some police forces came under massive criticism after the death of Eric Garner; Let It Fall looks back at its use in Los Angeles and another fatal case that led to the introduction of the batons as an alternative. It's just one detail in a very thorough film, but it illustrates a matter not addressed, perhaps deliberately left for the viewer to ponder: the idea that violent resistance to arrest is inevitable and will get worse is assumed, never questioned. Talk of PCP sounds like an excuse. There is no thought given to dialogue, only escalation.

Interview material provides the bulk of the narrative here, with key figures in the police department discussing their experiences, concerns and decisions. The quality of each piece of testimony is left for the viewer to assess, and those who come to the film knowing nothing are likely to find their impressions of some the participants shifting over the course of it. People whose loved ones were killed by the police over the course of that decade also speak, and add emotional depth to the film. An extra layer of complexity is added by contributions from members of the Korean community, who found themselves caught in the middle as racial tensions escalated.

Let It Fall runs to nearly two-and-a-half hours but feels much shorter, packing in a lot of information yet moving at a rapid pace. If there's something missing, it's that it never quite captures or puts across the intensity of feeling that surrounded the riots after the acquittal of the men who beat King. In the absence of that, it's easier to criticise choices made in the heat of the moment, easier to imagine noble solutions to problems whose roots were not just in politics and practicalities but also in emotion. Nevertheless, this is a detailed and important analysis of a critical point in US history, and a film well worth watching.

Reviewed on: 17 Nov 2017
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An in-depth look at the culture of Los Angeles in the ten years leading up to the 1992 uprising that erupted after the verdict of police officers cleared of beating Rodney King.

Director: John Ridley

Writer: John Ridley

Starring: Terry White, Tom Elfmont, Kee Ha, Donald Jones, Bobby Green

Year: 2017

Runtime: 144 minutes

Country: US


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