These are dark days. It’s nice to have occasional reminders that not everything is horrible. For every heinous initiative put into play by those currently in power, there are folks out there opposing it. While The Fight ultimately ends with a warning that real power for change rests not with idealistic lawyers but everyday people, it still offers an optimistic balm for trying times.
Despite some great, sometimes humorous editing, The Fight doesn’t have much cinematic value. It is a very cut-and-dry informative documentary, the kind of thing you might as well watch on television. It focuses on four ACLU lawyers and their journey fighting four specific cases you have almost certainly heard about on the news. These are giant cases representing four corners of the Trump administration’s overt attempts to decimate civil rights. The stakes are high and frequently emotional. But the overall point illustrates that even in victory, opposition is a constant and the fight will never truly end. Not should it.
Nevertheless, the ACLU is definitely facing more fervent fighting these days. This is made apparent as the film briefly tracks Justice Brett Kavanaugh's ascension to the Supreme Court, automatically throwing a ton of civil rights issues into question for future battles. You can feel everyone's hearts sink like a stone the moment they learn of Justice Kennedy's retirement. Even before any of the Kavanaugh stuff, they automatically know what it means for the country (nothing good).
The film also dips its toes into the ACLU’s defense of hate speech groups’ freedom to assemble, particularly in the case of the 2017 Charlottesville rally that cost Heather Heyer her life. I appreciate the film’s willingness to bring this up, but the issue goes by quickly, almost as if checking a box to make sure this all isn't too shiny. It also raises a desire to instead see a documentary that explores this moral question specifically.
But this isn’t that movie. The Fight falls short of being a fluff piece but not by much. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with that - the ACLU clearly deserves this praise. It’s just not as interesting.
If nothing else, you’ll likely leave The Fight wanting to get into the fight yourself, which is ultimately the film’s point. The struggle looks difficult and frustrating, but it also looks meaningful and worth the effort, even in defeat. Especially in defeat probably. The ACLU has been around a long time; it's not like they close up shop when a Democrat is in office. These lawyers are willing to put their lives on the back burner to protect our rights in times of great adversity, but they can’t save us completely. Only we can do that, and we probably won’t.