Review by Sean Boelman
There are a lot of shocking things about Stefan Forbes’s documentary Hold Your Fire, but perhaps the single most stunning thing is that it did not receive an Oscar-qualifying run. Timely and powerful despite having a smattering of flaws, this documentary presents a fascinating and powerful look at criminal justice reform despite its flaws.
The film tells the story of events that happened in Brooklyn in 1973, when a group of four men attempted to steal guns for self-defense, setting off the longest siege in NYPD history and defining the process of hostage negotiation as we know it. It’s one of those stories that is pivotal but often left out of history books, and Forbes’s documentary brings it to the spotlight.
Forbes’s style of filmmaking is certainly very flashy, for better or worse. The movie plays out in an almost pulpy way, allowing the viewer to get wrapped up and absorbed in this situation as it unfolds. Some could argue that using such tragic circumstances for entertainment is ethically questionable, but it’s clear that this film’s heart is in the right place.
It’s interesting, because even though the movie is clearly interested in communicating the nuances of the situation — showing that there is more to this type of standoff than the media and pop culture would let on — it falls victim to many of those same trappings of heightening the tension in the wrong places.
Often, this comes at the expense of the deeper themes that this film explores. There is a lot to be said in this situation about racism and gun violence, but it’s not quite as impactful as it could have been. Granted, given that the runtime is a mere ninety-three minutes, the movie should be praised for even trying to juggle all of these ideas.
Part of the film’s issue is its slightly scattered nature. The movie jumps between different perspectives a lot, and while this is understandable given that this is meant to be from the standpoint of a mediator, it causes the arguments to lose some of their strength rather than fortifying them in a devil’s advocate sort of way.
Still, there is an undeniable kineticism to Forbes’s film that makes it absolutely irresistible. There are a lot of archive materials with talking heads woven in, but this never feels too interview-heavy even though that is the primary method of storytelling. He manages to make the talking heads feel almost invisible, which is an impressive feat.
Hold Your Fire is certainly an impressive feat of documentary filmmaking, and while the stylized execution works against it at times, it’s mostly very effective. It’s a compelling, largely unknown story that audiences should pay attention to.
Hold Your Fire is now in theaters and on VOD.