Curtain up on a nation in turmoil, rebels with a cause, and state secrets stolen from beneath the noses of the establishment. Familiar though it sounds, this isn’t a description of the Wikileaks drama or the Snowden saga: this is 1971, not 2015.
In the wake of the Vietnam War and the assassinations of JFK and Martin Luther King, the USA’s national mood was grim. Faced with the suited-and-booted American secret police, a small group of parents and students ignited their political activism and kicked off the 1970s with one of the greatest criminal heists of their time: FBI files were stolen and state secrets were given to the national press that revealed the criminal activities of the Bureau.
Director Hamilton tells the true story through exclusive interviews, historical footage, dramatic re-enactments and the odd audio cassette tape. The story itself is one that is all too relevant to a post-Snowden society and needs no embellishment to hold its audience. Juxtaposing topical footage and confessional polemics from the masterminds is an effective directorial move, painting the picture with broad uncompromising strokes and mixing the political with the personal.
The production only falters on sporadic details that distract from the power it harnesses elsewhere. The panning shots and close-ups of the cassette player during the airing of historic recordings seems an odd choice in comparison with the multimedia collage comprising the rest of the piece. Why pan a cassette when you have such plentiful source material? The cast re-enactments jar occasionally when they delve into clichéd tableaux and some aesthetically incongruous casting stuns during such re-enactments, particularly as the outlaws’ true faces become so familiar to the viewer.
Yet, these flaws are inconsequential when viewed as part of the stranger-than-fiction narrative. The production is both informative and entertaining, with Bonnie – the only participant never suspected by the FBI – providing a particularly engrossing account of her life as a maternal outlaw, showing that having kids was no excuse for not participating when injustices were apparent.
Described by a 70s newsreader as “Robin Hoods mocking the blithering Sheriff of Nottingham”, this tale of the underdogs defeating the “powers that be” would beggar belief had Hamilton not backed the fantastical fable up to the hilt in source materials and personal testimonies. Not perfect perhaps, but a passionate political punch through time that still leaves the viewer reeling.
1971 is released nationwide on 5th June 2015.
Watch the trailer for 1971 here: