As crazy and polarizing as the last four years have been, there's no doubt that they've resulted in a slew of outstanding political documentaries. This year alone has brought us Slay the Dragon, The Infiltrators, John Lewis: Good Trouble, and the upcoming White Noise. We can now add The Fight to that list. Directors Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg (Weiner) team with Eli Despres to look at the work the ACLU has done fighting some of the most controversial actions of the Trump administration.
The film follows five lawyers as they take on four different cases. Lee Gelernt is fighting to reunite immigrant families separated at the border. Brigitte Amiri is defending the right of a pregnant teenage immigrant to access abortion after Scott Lloyd, the Director of Refugee Settlement, denies it, based on his personal religious beliefs. Chase Strangio and Joshua Block work to oppose the transgender military ban.
Perhaps the most interesting figure in The Fight is Dale Ho. He's on a mission to get the citizenship question removed from the census. It's a case that takes him all the way to the Supreme Court. Even more than the others, he visibly feels the weight of what losing would mean. So much is at stake: the possibility of it being abused by ICE, the impact it could have on states' electoral votes, etc. One of the film's most poignant moments finds him acknowledging a belief that, as a civil rights lawyer, he has a moral obligation to be as active as possible right now.
The Fight does a great job showing why these issues are important. More than that, it benefits from observing the nitty-gritty details of what ACLU lawyers do. Plenty of scenes involve the attorneys making phone calls, practicing their arguments, and nervously checking their computers for court rulings. That provides a nice glimpse at what the day-to-day activities are and how they build to the less-frequent “glamorous” moments (i.e. the actual arguing in court).
Lest you think this is one big wet kiss to the ACLU, The Fight takes a little time to explore a major recent controversy the organization found itself in. Of course, their primary goal is to fight for constitutional rights, including and especially free speech. They even stand up for the right to engage in hate speech. That created a public black eye when they fought to allow the neo-Nazi protests in Charlottesville that ultimately led to the death of Heather Heyer. Some within the organization believe they need to rethink such matters going forward, while others believe that passing any sort of judgement on free speech intrinsically harms their mission.
Each of the cases depicted had a different outcome. Even if you know them, the behind-the-scenes peek at how those cases were mounted is engrossing and suspenseful. The Fight reminds viewers that our Constitutional rights frequently need to be defended, because even though we all agree on their importance, not everyone likes them when they apply to someone else.
Don't miss one of 2020's most indispensable documentaries.
out of four
The Fight is rated PG-13 for strong language, thematic material and brief violence. The running time is 1 hour and 36 minutes.