Review by Sean Boelman
Some of the most powerful documentaries take important but seldom-discussed historical events and use them as an indicator of the state of the system as a whole. Traci Curry and Stanley Nelson’s Attica is a great film, telling its story in a way that will be absolutely eye-opening for audiences.
The movie tells the story of the Attica prison uprising, along with the factors that led to it and the aftermath it had. Brutality in the justice system has been one of the hottest topics around for the past few years because of what has been happening in the country and the world, but Curry and Nelson make it clear that this issue has sadly always been there.
Ultimately, the film can be divided into two halves — the first an academic exploration of the situation and the second an account of the uprising. For the first hour, the movie is good but a tad on the dry side, but the second half becomes absolutely harrowing in its depiction of these tragic events.
Audiences will feel a variety of feelings watching this film, from sadness for the people who experienced this to disgust at the people who perpetrated it. This is a big part of what makes the movie so effective, as the strong emotional impact the film has makes the message hit so much harder.
This is a story about prison brutality and the injustice of the justice system, but it is also representative of many of the greater racial issues that plague our society. Those who are privileged find ways to keep those who are less fortunate than them out of power, and systemic racism is one of the main ways that happens.
The movie features interviews with many of the parties involved, including former inmates and other witnesses to the rebellion. Usually, documentaries are better off having fewer subjects with the audience having a closer familiarity with them, but this works by getting the audience invested in the overall movement.
From a technical level, the film is also extremely impressive. Curry and Nelson blend archive footage with talking head interviews in a way that moves along the story quite nicely. The first half is admittedly a bit conventional, but the second is rather exceptional when it picks up a more unique rhythm.
Attica is an extraordinary documentary, and even though it gets off to a bit of a slow start, the second half is so affecting that it has a lasting impact. It’s definitely one of the most important documentaries of the year.
Attica debuts on Showtime on November 6.