In barely more than half an hour, directors Dee Hibbert-Jones and Nomi Talisman have added much to the ongoing discussion about acquired brain injury, PTSD, the death penalty and racism.
Sadly, the true story of two brothers (Bill, older brother to Manny Babbitt) ends badly—if predictably—with no winners and very little justice for anyone.
Never quite fitting in after being ejected from a car during a crash at the age of 12, Manny soon lost his way in school. A few years later, he appeared to have found his mission in life by taking others (two tours of duty as a U.S. Marine during the Vietnam War). But the horrors of Khe Sanh left the purple heart soldier fearing for his own life with any sudden, loud sound: “The bombs are coming.” During one of those episodes he took “cover” in the home of an unsuspecting senior citizen, only to savagely assault her in the process. Death was ruled the result of that beating and a heart attack.
The all-white jury (cheered on by an ambitious DA in full election mode) had no problem convicting; Manny spent nearly 20 years in jail before his execution in 1999.
This harrowing tale is brought to vivid life through the courageous recollection of events by Bill. The decision to “see” his story largely through black-and-white line drawings is as brilliant as it is metaphorical (the colour segments being reserved for the appearance of lawyers as the case goes to trial).
Fred Firth’s original score—notable for more light than sound—ideally complements the images.
No one will come away unmoved by this testament to humankind’s inability to mete out fair justice, protect the innocent and better understand the mind-altering effects that armed conflicts can have on those under fire or doing the killing.
With those sorts of military actions (legal or not) showing no signs of abating, this film couldn’t be timelier. Unfortunately, those who have survived the battle only to lose the inner war of mental stability—like hidden-from-view landmines—are destined to explode in ways just as unpredictable as Manny’s. JWR