Review by Sean Boelman
The late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is inarguably one of the most extraordinary political figures of our lifetime, so it is no surprise that filmmakers are rushing to make documentaries about her. And while Freida Lee Mock’s Ruth - Justice Ginsburg in Her Own Words is a nicely crafted film, the fact that she was beaten to the jump causes it to come up short.
In the movie, Mock uses archive footage and interviews to tell the story of Ruth Bader Ginsburg from her years as an activist and civil rights lawyer to her time on the Supreme Court. The details that the film offers about some of Ginsburg’s earlier cases, but there is otherwise a disappointing amount of overlap between this and earlier movies about the Justice.
Mock’s film has enough energy and variety to keep it moving along for its hour and thirty minute runtime, but there is an overwhelming feeling of familiarity that keeps Ginsburg’s story from being as powerful as it should. Ginsburg is anything but a standard person, and she deserves much more than a standard biography.
Perhaps most frustrating about the movie is that it reuses a lot of the same materials that have already been featured in other documentaries. Although there are some obvious moments that would be repeated, namely the big soundbites, the significant recycling of archive materials doesn’t help this stand out whatsoever.
The film also fumbles some of the political aspects of its subject’s life. Even though it is about a politician who earned respect and notoriety for her dissenting opinions, this movie is shockingly moderate. There is even a section that talks about her friendship with former Justice Scalia and argues the importance of neutrality.
In terms of discussing Ginsburg’s contributions as a groundbreaking woman, Mock does a much better job than she does in evaluating her subject’s political impacts. However, it still feels like this is all stuff that has been said and done before, and much more effectively. We already know that Ginsburg masterfully juggled her family and work, and we want to be told something new.
Still, many viewers of the film will already have a tremendous respect for Ginsburg and won’t mind getting another opportunity to celebrate her and her accomplishments. It’s also a lot less technical than a lot of other movies about her when it comes to the legal side, so this could serve as a good introduction of her to the next generation so that her legacy can continue to grow.
Ruth - Justice Ginsburg in Her Own Words is a bit misleading in that it doesn’t offer much in terms of intimate access to the late Justice despite being completed before her passing last year. Instead, it’s a shallow (albeit competent) biography that will ultimately be very low-profile compared to the better films about her.
Ruth - Justice Ginsburg in Her Own Words is now streaming on Starz.