If you’re looking for a documentary that provides an intellectual challenge, Tower is perhaps not an ideal choice. In this heavily sentimental docu-drama, director Keith Maitland re-enacts the 96 minutes of terror endured in August 1966 by the citizens of Austin, Texas, when Charles J Whitman opened fire on random civilians and students with an assortment of rifles from the top of the University of Texas clock tower. The picture is strikingly produced with a technique called rotoscoping, where live-action footage is traced over with animation.
The film starts off by setting up its main players just minutes before the attack, which is sure to send chills down one’s spine with the knowledge of what’s to come. The story centres mostly around Claire Wilson (Violett Beane), a young pregnant woman whose unborn baby and boyfriend were the first victims of the attack and who lay wounded for almost an hour on the ground in Texas’s excruciatingly hot midday sun. Each actor steps in as an animated version of him or herself to describe their character’s experience to the camera.
Houston McCoy, in a strong performance by Blair Jackson, is perhaps the movie’s most compelling character: a well intentioned young cop who doesn’t even realise what he’s getting into when he is called onto the scene, and quits his job after the whole ordeal.
The entire event is played out in immaculate, evocative detail. The real Wilson and a host of other survivors, including officer Martinez (played by Louie Arnett), appear as themselves towards the end of the film, poignantly testifying alongside their younger animated counterparts.
Maitland and his team make a conscious effort to stay away from politics in their experimental documentary. They take a humanitarian approach from start to end, immersing the audience in the horrific situation each character faces. The clean, vectorial animation style is expressive and pleasing to the eye as it alternates and blends with archival footage of the event that was, in fact, the first mass shooting ever to receive live coverage. The movie interestingly denotes this transition into the era of mass media by introducing a highly modern aesthetic to to the documentary genre.
Tower takes a fresh stance on mass shootings by hardly acknowledging the perpetrator and focusing on the victims. For a style of cinema that is usually known to educate viewers, this film strays into tearjerker territory rather than delivering meaningful, thought-provoking content.
Tower is not released in selected cinemas on 3rd February 2017.
Watch the trailer for Tower here: