THE GOOD FIGHT
By BRETT FLETCHER
One of the most beautiful things about film is how it can educate, move and inspire. In a mere 65 minutes, director Jessica Schoenbachler manages to do all three while exploring the fascinating, complicated life of civil rights activist Dr. James Farmer Jr. in The Good Fight. How could the unknown Farmer possibly be as interesting as MLK or Malcolm X? Farmer not only fought along side both and suffered similar tribulations professionally and personally, he has the added dimension of unjust anonymity. In a world filled with useless, recycled movie story lines, it’s refreshing to to see a film covering a life worth knowing.
Fight opens detailing Farmer’s involvement with the Great Debaters as a young man. Yes, the same Great Debaters as in Denzel Washington’s film. Fortunately, Fight intersperses cuts from the GB film with real pictures and witness testimony to illustrate the story seamlessly. Additionally, you see how Farmer would form his arguments and just how much his father and Melvin Tolson, Washington’s character, affected his life. This part alone is worthy of its own documentary. Then comes Farmer’s helping pioneer the Freedom Rides and the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE). Most people know what the Freedom Rides were, but Fight does a great job of doing a brief explanation that hardly interrupts the story. Fight shows the courage in the eyes of the Riders, their training and the violence they endured.
Farmer’s personal life is also explored. One cannot lead the nation in equality without sacrificing family, which seemed to be Farmer’s deepest regret. He had good wife that helped him pursue justice and kids he hoped would one day understand he was fighting in Washington for their future. There are also some interesting tidbits about how Farmer managed to find median between peace and strength that MLK and Malcolm X never had time to find. In fact, my favorite part of Fight involves Farmer discussing how he was able debate the ferocious Malcolm X and win, while other leaders were afraid to even try.
A common problem with documentaries is they sometimes don’t have a high enough production value to add a professional polish. Fight sidesteps that with visually interesting cuts and montages. This polish prevents any after school special tone and keeps the viewer engaged. Another problem some documentaries suffer from is rambling interviewees. Fight’s hour running time and careful editing ensure every line you hear is pertinent. I can’t imagine such a large story being more told more concisely and effectively.
5/5: no flaws and a great story.
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