Content warning: This article may not be suited for readers sensitive to sexual violence.
On the first day of the Sundance Film Festival, January 19, the press exclusive panel “Sundance Scoop” announced a surprise addition to the slot of films for the coming weekend. Director of Programming, Kim Yutani, would give the synopsis of “Justice” premiering the next night. No additional screenings of the film, besides an industry and press screening, would follow the premiere.
“Justice” is Doug Liman’s first documentary, as the director dramatically shifted from blockbuster action movies to a meaningful critique of the Supreme Court and other institutions.
The next day, the eight o’clock screening would shock and leave many teary-eyed. As the lights dimmed, the film began with clips of a judge pulling up a black robe. During these scenes, shouts of cheers arose from the crowd. Louder applause from the images of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford quickly followed in juxtaposition to the alluding clips of Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
The film began with the telling of Ford’s childhood life, as well as the hostile culture of high school life at Georgetown Preparatory School. The story of Ford’s life, up to the moment she had to break her story to the entire world, allows audiences to imagine the feeling of a survivor’s secret.
Liman’s film later progresses into the forgotten story of Kavanaugh’s Yale classmate, Deborah Ramirez. The shift from Ford to Ramirez is devastating, as she thoroughly tells the story of her unwanted encounter with Kavanaugh. At Yale, Ramirez felt to be the odd one out. With her biracial identity and no family fortune, she was left with one option — try to fit in with her classmates. This meant heavy drinking and social gatherings were often mixed. Ramirez recounts her experience at a small party, where she remembers Kavanaugh laughing at her embarrassment when he exposed his genitalia to her face.
After Kavanaugh’s nomination in 2018, she went public with a The New Yorker article after Ford’s lead. The film acknowledges what many do not know about the story, suggesting the many strings in Washington, DC that prevented her story from being as large as Ford’s.
With both stories shared in detail, the film crew shared their investigations. With Kavanaugh publicly denying the women’s claims, the FBI-made tip board said otherwise. The 2018 tip board gained more than 4,500 tips on the multiple sexual assault cases against the soon-to-be federal judge. Yet, the FBI did not follow through with the investigation of a single tip. During the Q&A after the screening session, producer Amy Hardy claimed the film crew is still receiving tips even after the film’s announcement the previous morning.
The film ends with an appalling discovery made by the film’s investigative team. To prevent any interview information from leaving the documentary before its release, all participants in the film were required to sign an NDA.
While the main consensus of the premiere audience was a reiteration of what is already known, Liman’s intentions for the film were clearly stated during the Q&A portion of the screening. Liman and the rest of the crew hope the film gives people another reason to continue the fight against sexual violence. Hardy expressed the wish for, “a real investigation with subpoena powers.” While this may be extremely difficult to do, the film does more than add to the conversation about sexual violence.
“Justice” makes the viewer go beyond listening to an assault survivor’s story. The film is intended to make the viewer enraged by the disgusting and devious actions one will do for power.
Liman’s passion for the project is clear from the final film, the production and his comments regarding the film. The director funded the film himself for the sake of preventing his discoveries being known.
Ultimately, “Justice” is more than a tearful experience for sexual violence survivors. When the film is over and you are infuriated with rage, just know that our government has a mountain of evidence against Kavanaugh that collects dust in the hands of the FBI.
Verdict: “Justice” is more than a must-watch. For Liman’s first documentary, “Justice” is a great start to other investigative work he pursues in film.