The documentary Unconstitutional, by Nonny de la Peña, gives the Patriot Act a sound drubbing. It is beautifully structured. The most difficult thing involved in structuring such a work is to order its parts in such a way as to do two things simultaneously: achieve continuity, with each component leading logically to the next, and achieve thematic unity and purpose, which requires that the addition of each component enlarge and expand the material in the direction of what must be achieved at the last: the fullness of a single argument. De la Peña accomplishes all this. His is a model of clarity; each part is clear, and each part clearly contributes to a clear wholeness, to wit, that the Patriot Act is unpatriotic, that it violates one tenet after another of basic U.S. Constitutional principle.
I was deeply affected by the film’s thematic purpose: to make the U.S. Constitution come alive as a document by relating violations of it to the adverse consequences on actual individual human lives. The film goes about its thematic purpose so modestly, patiently, methodically, quietly that one is quite overwhelmed by the finish, by which time the film has reached its thematic goal.
The film is a joy—and this sort of film rarely is that. It is a conventional documentary, not a creative one, but it’s beautifully put together. It is leagues beyond other documentaries on the same topic I have seen on PBS.
I presume “sponsored by the A.C.L.U.”—a construction I have never encountered in the credits of any other movie (“sponsored by . . .” some organization)—means that the American Civil Liberties Union underwrote the film in whole or in part and is using it as a recruitment tool. It should work!
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