Directors/ Elyse Steinberg, Josh Kriegman, Eli B. Despres
Watched on Amazon
The Fight is a greatest hits mix tape of President Donald Trump’s assault on the United States Constitution. It is also a stirring portrait of the American Civil Liberties Union which, despite their protests to the contrary, is probably the only organization standing between Trump and tyranny. The ACLU lawyers profiled in the film are tireless defenders of our civil rights, but they will be the first to say that they will not save us from dictatorship, that they are merely working the justice system to protect and defend our right to organize, protest, engage, and vote. Yet, at this perilous moment–September 2020–in Trump’s four-years’ long slaughter of democratic norms, The Fight assures us that the ACLU is in democracy’s corner.
The Fight is a ceaselessly stirring, inspiring, gritty, and enraging account of five key cases during Trump’s reign of terror. Let’s capitalize them for maximum effect: The Muslim Ban, the Separation of Children at the Border, the Census Citizenship Question, the Military Transgender Ban, and the complicated case of Denying Abortion Rights to an Undocumented Immigrant. That’s quite a list, and a viewer may avoid the film thinking it is nothing more than a montage of tedious courtroom melodramas. It is anything but.
A trio of directors, Elyse Steinberg, Josh Kriegman, Eli B. Despres, a platoon of camerapeople, a squad of editors, and even an animator, deftly avoid wonky and arcane legal theories in favor of a humanizing and intimate focus on the key lawyers tackling the cases. The film reminded me of the work of the director Miichael Mann (Heat, The Insider), who can combine workaday process and personal family dynamics into riveting and propulsive dramatic action. The lawyers are smart, tenacious and driven by their commitment and respect for our constitutionally respected civil rights, but they are also human beings, susceptible to despair, disappointment, happiness, joy, and profound compassion. When arrayed against the blunt ugliness of Trump and his minions, they come across as the kind of everyday heroes who give us hope that we may just survive this thing.
The film wouldn’t work without its fluid handheld camerawork, without its swift intercutting, without its avoidance of pace-killing talking heads. There are–thankfully– no formal interviews in the movie, and there is only the briefest of historical sidetrips, which could have tipped it into History Channel territory. One could argue that The Fight is both a bit thin on political analysis and a bit thick with PR-style endorsement of the ACLU, and some reviewers have quibbled with the one-sided portrait it paints of these do-gooder defenders of our way of life.
One-sided? Of course it is, since there is no rational defense of equivalency when dealing with Trump’s cruelty and lawlessness. The Fight reminds us of his sustained debasement of a decency we all took for granted in America, and which is the only reason anyone needs to vote the motherfucker and his stooges out in November.