Review by Sean Boelman
To an outsider, Paul Taylor’s documentary The Art of Political Murder would likely seem like a bleak look at Latin American history, when in reality, it’s something more nuanced and complex. Although there are some pacing issues, this in-depth examination of one of the most shocking moments in Guatemala’s past is a fascinating watch.
The film takes a look at the murder of Bishop Juan Gerardi, who took a stand against the Guatemalan government for the atrocities they committed during the country’s Civil War. It’s hard-to-watch in many ways, but the message that this story has to offer about freedom of speech is just as important today as it was then.
This is definitely a very big story, but ultimately, only a small portion of the viewership is going to care about the nuances and intricacies of the situation. The ninety-minute runtime forces it to streamline itself in a way as to make the information more accessible to general audiences. Even though there is enough material here for a longer-form project, that doesn’t mean it was necessary.
At the core of this story is corruption, and Taylor takes a very hardline stance on the situation. It can understandably be hard to get to the bottom of an issue such as this, when there was a certain point at which people were scared to speak out due to a legitimate and warranted fear of being silenced by violent means.
From historians who provide commentary on the situation to the investigators who were tasked with uncovering the truth, Taylor assembled a solid group of interviewees to tell Gerardi’s story. Even if one knows about the incident, the different angles which the movie explores offer some new insight into the case.
Taylor cuts the film in a way that is very deliberate. He blends the interviews and archive materials in a way that is paced quite well. Once the movie hooks you early on, it holds your attention as the layers of the mystery are unwrapped one by one. It’s a rather traditional set-up, but an effective one nevertheless.
There are definitely some times in which the film feels like it is going to fall back on the tendencies of the true crime genre. This is particularly the case when the movie starts to discuss the crime scene and the evidence that was found. However, Taylor clearly understands what Gerardi stood for in the greater scheme of things, and he emphasizes that.
The Art of Political Murder takes what initially may seem like a niche topic and tells it in a way that is interesting and relevant on a bigger scale. For those who enjoy political or crime documentaries, this is definitely a worthwhile watch.
The Art of Political Murder airs on HBO on December 16 at 9pm ET/PT.