RBG

***1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

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"Less a cross-examination than a powerful summing up of her career, Cohen and West succeed in revealing the personality of the woman beneath the gown but there's no doubt they want to heavily influence our verdict." | Photo: Claudia Raschke

"All I ask of my brethren is that they take our feet off our necks," says Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Ruth Bader Ginsburg at key moments in this documentary profiling her career. She's quoting words from anti-slavery campaigner Sarah Grimke, written in 1838, and perhaps the most troubling thing about them is that they continue to strike such a loud chord for many in the modern world.

What's also noticeable about the quote is its iron fist in a velvet glove quality - attributes which are crucial to Ginsburg's mindset, as she reveals her abiding adherence to her mum's advice to, "Be a lady and be independent". Ginsburg translates the "lady" aspect in a much less twee way than might be feared, seeing it merely as advocating politeness when making ones point. As for independence, she's spent her entire career nudging equality legislation forward to give greater equality, and by extension, independence, for all.

Co-directors Julie Cohen and Besty West take a traditional approach to Ginsburg's story, tracking her life in a linear fashion from childhood through law school and progression to the Supreme Court, fleshing out the tale with hefty contributions from the lawyer herself, alongside talking heads and extensive archive footage of her work.

What emerges is a strong argument for always considering the bigger picture, as Cohen and West show how Ginsburg conducted a war of attrition with some of the United States' most discriminatory laws, tackling fringe cases, such as death benefits, and taking on men who had been discriminated against in order to bolster the overall argument for equality. That she did this in a world where women were considered "an impediment" is all the more remarkable.

With her short stature, delicate frame and quiet speech, Ginsburg doesn't seem a likely candidate for fame, but the film not only illustrates how this has ultimately been achieved by her hard work and persistence but also the way that networks grew up around her, with people like her husband working to push her into the spotlight.

Although it touches upon the way that an ill-thought out comment can reap the whirlwind in the modern world, this remains a determinedly upbeat portrait. While there's plenty to be positive about, a little more from her naysayers beyond the film's opening insults of "witch" and "monster" would have rounded things out - after all, while these epithets smack of extremism, Ginsburg is herself at pains to point out that things should be open to argument and dissent. Less a cross-examination than a powerful summing up of her career, Cohen and West succeed in revealing the personality of the woman beneath the gown but there's no doubt they want to heavily influence our verdict.

Reviewed on: 27 Jun 2018
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An intimate portrait of an unlikely rock star: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.


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