Gabby Giffords won’t back down in film review
If you find yourself sobbing during the first half of the new documentary “Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down,” no one can blame you.
Maybe you’ll pause at the part where you hear about Giffords mom moving to Texas so she can be with her in the hospital every day. Perhaps video footage of her early speech therapy sessions, where she struggles to say her own name, will interest you. Perhaps her return to the House of Representatives, where she was greeted with a standing ovation, will put you on edge.
Whatever your loss, it’s impossible to resist much of this powerful film, directed by Julie Cohen and Betsy West (“Julia,” “My Name’s Pauli Murray”), without being overwhelmed.
The documentary opens with a series of white roses in front of the National Mall, each placed to represent an American felled by gun violence. Archival footage in the opening credits then treats us to the meteoric rise of Gabrielle Giffords, a Tucson native who went from owner of her family’s tire shop to state legislature at age 31. She quickly rose to the State Senate and then to the United States Congress. These images of the vibrant MP are then abruptly cut by footage of her in a hospital bed in 2011, her head shaved and riddled with stitches, as she struggles to give her husband.
After footage of her early recovery (captured thanks to her husband, who thought she would want to see what she went through), the film reveals more about the assassination attempt that nearly killed Giffords. A gunman targeted his “Congress on Your Corner” event at a local Safeway, killing six people and injuring 13, including Giffords.
This easily makes it the most jaw-dropping part of the movie, as the witnesses talk about that horrible day. Daniel Hernández Jr.—then a congressional intern during his first week on the job, now a member of the Arizona House of Representatives—tried to stop Giffords’ bleeding with his own hands. Giffords’ husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, was training in Texas at the time of the incident and must have learned of his status from the media. At one point, he believed she was dead due to misreporting.
The film tells more about Giffords’ rehabilitation — including a stunning sequence in which Kelly, then commander of space shuttle ‘Endeavour,’ links the craft to the International Space Station on the same day Giffords underwent skull surgery — before move to 2021. Today, despite left-sided paralysis, Giffords is relatively independent and enjoys bike rides.
The biggest loss is her speech ability: Giffords suffers from aphasia due to her injury, which means that although her speech therapist says she is more quick-witted than ever, she is unable to speak. fully express. She speaks in simple sentences and one-word answers. When the filmmakers ask her if she thinks Arizona should have asked for the death penalty for her attacker, she shakes her head, saying, “Jail, jail, jail, jail.” Mental illness.”
That doesn’t stop this film from showing Giffords’ almost pathological positivity. “Won’t Back Down” is borrowed from Tom Petty’s song “I Won’t Back Down”, a feature of Giffords favorite 80s radio station. She loves the phrase “No bueno”, even when talking about incredibly dark things (like her own inability to speak), and keeps part of her own skull in her freezer, next to a bag of frozen empanadas. .
She brings that energy to her personal life and ongoing activism, as she coaches her husband through his own budding political career and runs Giffords, a gun control organization for gun owners. who hopes to function as a kind of “anti-NRA”. ”
The film’s editor, Ilya Chaiken (“American Experience”), skillfully stitches together Giffords’ complex story, juggling her and her exceptional husband with aplomb. But ‘Gabby Giffords won’t back down’ might have benefited from a bit more revamping. After the punch of his entire first half, less dramatic matters like Kelly’s run for the Senate lands more smoothly than they might otherwise. As a result, the second half can feel dragged out. Perhaps if these two sections had been reversed or otherwise mixed together, the political successes of Giffords and Kelly wouldn’t feel so sweet compared to their personal triumphs.
For the most part, however, this documentary is a triumphant portrait of a remarkable woman. While it leans a little too much on positivity at times, with a few cheesy musical cues and a little exploration of Giffords’ crushed political promise, it feels more like a tribute to the protagonist than a practice of naivety. After all, she is a woman who, to paraphrase her own words from the film, was deprived of speech but not of voice. And talking heads like Barack Obama provide some needed seriousness.
In the film’s final sequence, Giffords walks around his neighborhood, singing along with elders and even picking up trash along the way. But “Won’t Back Down” isn’t just a testament to Giffords’ unwavering spirit: it also captures his legacy, providing a compelling endorsement for center-left politics and bipartisanship in our increasingly political climate. more stratified. (Giffords herself still owns a gun.) That the filmmakers manage to tackle so much of such a complicated life in just over 90 minutes speaks volumes about their efficiency, their vision and their economy.
“Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down” hits US theaters on July 15.