THE STORY – At a defining moment in American history, a scrappy team of heroic ACLU lawyers battles for abortion rights, immigrant rights, LGBTQ rights, and voting rights.
THE CAST – Brigitte Amiri, Joshua Block, Lee Gelernt, Dale Ho & Chase Strangio
THE TEAM – Eli Despres, Josh Kriegman & Elyse Steinberg (Directors/Writers)
THE RUNNING TIME – 96 Minutes
By Josh Parham
Politics has always had a way of influencing art. It’s nearly impossible to escape how the real world shapes the perspective of filmmakers and thus produces a product that gives a heavy commentary on current events. Documentaries are specially equipped to be influenced by such forces and have a great effect on the subjects they explore. When it comes to “The Fight,” the current political landscape is inescapable. There’s a direct spotlight shown on the battle between the presidential administration and the American Civil Liberties Union. As such, this film is an engaging piece if not at all revolutionary to those who are already sympathetic to these causes.
The film chronicles four recent cases the ACLU has taken on and the dedicated legal fight the organization is facing. One revolves around voter suppression and its relation to the Trump administration’s proposal to add a citizenship status question to the census. Another case concerns abortion rights when the federal government attempts to impede a procedure for an undocumented minor. Immigration is the focus of another conflict that takes aim at child separation policies. The last of this group targets the civil rights of the LGBTQ community, specifically transgender soldiers serving openly in the military. All of these instances are shown to be grave dangers to civil rights and there are lawyers standing by with a tireless passion to defend them.
Even as the film bounces around between these different entries, there’s a compelling nature to all of these plights that keeps one invested throughout. The fact that what’s highlighted here are real struggles that many people find themselves struggling through is what makes the setbacks and victories have such an impact. Directors Elyse Steinberg, Josh Kriegman, and Eli B. Despres manage to convey an endearing portrait of the crusade toward justice against a political system that creates conflict in every direction. There’s an intimate perspective formed with the access that was granted, and there’s an emotional bond created with both the lawyers and plaintiffs that are involved in these situations.
Still, it should be noted that while well-intentioned, the entire thesis of the film certainly plays more to an audience that’s already committed to the mission statement of the ACLU. Credit is given to the attempts to show the less favorable groups this organization has represented in the past, particularly the white supremacists that marched in Charlottesville that eventually muddied their reputation. However, these calls for nuance don’t linger for long and the film quickly reverts back to its uplifting messages about the brave fight. While all this hard work is admirable, it also plants its flag firmly on one perspective and does make itself feel like it’s preaching to the choir. It’s particularly felt in the way Justice Brett Kavanagh’s presence is so heavily antagonistic yet also feeling like more of a footnote within the larger story.
However, none of that significantly takes away from the real-life drama on display, and that’s the greatest asset in the end. Like any traditional narrative that fractures its story into isolated segments, there are occasions in which some sections draw you in more than others. In this case, those sections of the film that are more lacking don’t necessarily feel that way because of the content but more so because the filmmaking doesn’t feel inventive. The straightforward nature of the storytelling can sometimes come across as forced or wooden. Still, most of these segments do manage to make an impact by the end. There’s a particular catharsis at the resolutions for both the voter suppression and child separation storylines. While the others don’t hit quite as hard, they still show an admirable dedication to have a successful outcome for these marginalized groups.
Overall, this is an engaging documentary that finds the passion in the struggle to fight the rights of citizens. It reaches some genuine emotional depths and its showcase of tireless soldiers in this endeavor is inspiring. However, it doesn’t go too far beneath the surface in its commentary and isn’t built to appeal to anybody who isn’t already in agreement with its agenda. That makes it miss out on a more nuanced portrait, which also isn’t compensated by the generic filmmaking. Still, as a snapshot of the current political climate, it’s a compelling piece and worthy to be seen for the support of its subject matter alone.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – The story of these cases is inspiring and emotional, and watching everybody involved work toward their goals is compelling to watch.
THE BAD – Nothing here plays to an audience that isn’t already agreeing with the message, so a more nuanced portrait is not presented. Most of the filmmaking is only serviceable.