Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down Film Review

Gun Rights

You may find yourself crying through the first half the documentary. “Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down,”You are not to be blamed.

Maybe you’ll break at the part where you hear about Giffords’ mother moving to Texas so she could be with her in the hospital every day. Perhaps you will find comfort in video footage of Giffords’ early speech-therapy sessions where she struggled to pronounce her name. You might be able to get over the edge by her return at the House of Representatives where she was greeted with a standing-ovation.

Whatever your undoing, it’s impossible to withstand much of this powerful film, directed by Julie Cohen and Betsy West (“Julia,” “My Name is Pauli Murray”You can do it without feeling overwhelmed.

The documentary opens with a sequence of white roses positioned in front the National Mall. Each rose is meant to symbolize an American who has been killed by gun violence. Archival footage in the opening credits then treats us to the whirlwind rise of Gabrielle Giffords, a Tucson native who went from owning her family’s tire shop to the state legislature at age 31. She quickly rose to the U.S. Congress and the state senator. These images of the lively congresswoman are abruptly cut by footage of her in hospital in 2011. Her head is shaved and covered with stitches as she struggles to give her husband thumbs-up.

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The film shows footage of her early recovery, which was captured by her husband who thought she would be interested in seeing what she went through. It also reveals more details about the attempted assassination that almost killed Giffords. A gunman targeted her “Congress on Your Corner”At a Safeway in the area, six people were killed and 13 others were injured.

This is the most dramatic part of the film. Witnesses talk about the terrible day. Daniel Hernández Jr. – then a congressional intern in his first week of work, now a member of the Arizona House of Representatives – tried to stop Giffords’ bleeding with his own hands. Giffords’ husband, the astronaut Mark Kelly, was training in Texas at the time of the incident and had to learn about her status through the media. He believed that she had died due to incorrect news reports.

The film chronicles more of Giffords’ rehabilitation – including one astonishing sequence in which Kelly, then commander of the Space Shuttle “Endeavour,” links the craft to the International Space Station on the same day that Giffords has skull surgery – before jumping to 2021. Giffords, despite paralysis to her left side, is now relatively independent and enjoys riding bikes.

Giffords has suffered the greatest loss in her ability to speak. Although she is still able to communicate her thoughts clearly, her speech therapist claims she is as sharp and quick-witted after her injury. She speaks in short sentences and only one-word answers. When asked by filmmakers whether Arizona should have sued for the death penalty, she shrugs and replies, “Yes.” “Jail, jail, jail, jail. Mentally ill.”

That doesn’t stop this film from showcasing Giffords’ almost pathological positivity. “Won’t Back Down”taken from the Tom Petty song “I Won’t Back Down,” a feature on Giffords’ favorite 80s radio station. The phrase is a favorite of hers “No bueno,”Even when she is talking about extremely dark things (like her speech impairment), she keeps a piece of her skull in her freezer next to a bag full of frozen empanadas.

She applies this energy to her personal and professional life, and continues her activism as she guides her husband through his nascent political career. Giffords is a gun-control group for gun owners, which hopes to serve as a kindof “gun control” organization. “anti-NRA.”

The film’s editor, Ilya Chaiken (“American Experience”), deftly assembles Giffords’ complex history, juggling both her and her exceptional husband with aplomb. But “Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down”A little more organization might have been helpful. After the gut-punch of its entire first half, less dramatic matters like Kelly’s run for senate land more softly than they otherwise might. The second half can sometimes feel too dreary. Perhaps if these two sections had been switched or otherwise shuffled, Giffords’ and Kelly’s political successes wouldn’t feel so meek in comparison to their personal triumphs.

The documentary portrays a wonderful woman for most of its length. If it leans a bit too hard on the positivity at times, with some cheesy musical cues and little exploration of Giffords’ squashed political promise, that feels more like an homage to the protagonist than a practice in naïveté. This is a woman who was, to use her own words, robbed of speech, but not of a sound. Talking heads such as Barack Obama provide the necessary gravitas.

In the film’s final sequence, Giffords cycles around her neighborhood, singing along to oldies and even picking up litter on the way. But “Won’t Back Down” is not just a testament to Giffords’ unflagging spirit: it also captures her legacy, providing a compelling endorsement for center-left politics and bipartisanship in our increasingly stratified political climate. Giffords is still a gun owner. The filmmakers are able to cover so much of a complex life in less than 90 minutes, which speaks volumes about their vision, effectiveness and economy.

“Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down”Opening in US cinemas July 15.

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