Combustible Celluloid
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With: John Lewis, Michael Collins, Elijah Cummings, James Clyburn, Nancy Pelosi, Cory Booker, Hillary Clinton, Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Dawn Porter
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic material including some racial epithets/violence, and for smoking
Running Time: 97
Date: 07/03/2020

John Lewis: Good Trouble (2020)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Vote of Thanks

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Directed by Dawn Porter, the documentary John Lewis: Good Trouble is an essential item for our times. It's a primer on John Lewis, a U.S. Representative from Georgia since 1987, and a Civil Rights leader who fought alongside Martin Luther King, Jr.

For protesting against injustices, he claims to have been arrested forty times before being elected to Congress, five times after, and expects to be again. He's someone we all need to know about.

In a style perhaps inspired by the films of Errol Morris, Lewis speaks, looking directly at the viewers, rather than the off-to-the-side interviewer, this eye contact making his stories all the more personal.

He tells of his childhood, raising chickens in Troy, Alabama, and, in a radio interview, he tells the awe-inspiring tale of his first meeting with Dr. King.

Lewis's sisters paint a picture of him as a teen, wearing a tie and carrying his Bible to high school every day. In later years, he was one of the original Freedom Riders, and participated in the 1965 marches from Selma to Montgomery.

When speaking, he often implores people to act when they see something wrong. "Get in the way! Find a way to get in trouble! Good trouble! Necessary trouble!"

It's a powerful film about an incredible man. If anything, John Lewis: Good Trouble is possibly too short, attempting to pack in so much biographical and personal information into a mere 97 minutes.

Such prominent interviewees as Bill and Hillary Clinton, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Stacey Abrams barely even appear.

It's not until the final third or so that the movie even makes mention of such personal details as Lewis's marriage, to Lillian Miles, and her death in 2012.

But there's no question of Lewis's truly lovely character, as evidenced in a moving story told by his chief of staff, Michael Collins, or by a viral video of Lewis grooving to Pharrell Williams's "Happy."

During the movie, Lewis can be seen passionately campaigning for Abrams for governor of Georgia, while attempting to fight against voter suppression. Unfortunately Abrams lost, perhaps due to that exact phenomenon.

Voter rights are still an issue, but of course, even more is at stake now. In one scene, Lewis, currently 80, toddles down to the end of his driveway and retrieves his daily print newspapers. He then sits at his kitchen table and reads them carefully.

Without a hint of despair, exasperation, or exhaustion in his voice, he says he fears that one day we will wake up and democracy as we know it will be gone.

"As long as I have breath in my body, I will do what I can," he says. This man has been fighting for his entire life, and the fight isn't even close to being over. And that's why he's a hero.

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