Film Reviews

Review: ‘The Force’

Hot Docs 2017

Courtesy Hot Docs


The Force
(USA, 93 min.)
Dir. Peter Nicks
Programme: World Showcase (Canadian Premiere)

It’s often easy for verité filmmakers to become so precious about their technique that they lose track of the narrative, allowing formal purity to come at the expense of content. So it’s refreshing to see that with The Force, the filmmakers were wise enough to capture the smallest details with surveillance-like precision, never losing focus as the situations for their participants changed.

As a look at contemporary law enforcement reform, The Force is a precise and focussed work that surveys the much maligned Oakland Police department as it undergoes much needed reconstitution. We meet potential officers in the academy forced to confront the grey areas between appropriate conduct and responding to escalated—even heated—circumstances. We hear the well meaning words of administrators, politicians and senior police leadership looking to steer a ship back on course, attempting to deal with systemic issues and moving forward with community participation. And we hear from the members of the community, frustrated to the point of questioning the very existence of the police as an institution.

What starts out as a model of reform soon because a series of increasingly appalling scandals and reversals, turning a film that had glimmers of hope into one that leaves the viewer even more perplexed about the enormity of the task. Yet never does The Force revel in these failings by milking sorrow for dramatic purpose, managing at all times with journalistic precision to point out that even the more awful reversals have complexities far beyond the headlines.

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