Saturday, May 29, 2010

William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe: Grade C

William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe (2009)

William Kunstler (historical footage). Directors: Emily and Sarah Kunstler.

This is an interesting biographical snapshot of a remarkable defense lawyer who was at the forefront of radical politics in the ‘60s and ‘70s. He defended gangsters, murderers and mobsters, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. He defended the inmates who revolted at Attica prison, members of the Chicago Seven, the Black Panthers, and the American Indian Movement at Wounded Knee. The biography is also therefore a review of troubled times in America, a time when many of us, like Kunstler, for the first time realized that the government was not “on our side,” but bent on self preservation and crushing dissent. That was a startling realization that spawned and sustained much social unrest.

Kunstler’s two daughters obviously tried to be sure the project was not simply a paean to their father nor a sentimental memoir. They succeeded in that. It is a reasonably balanced view of the man, his times, his accomplishments and failures, although not his motivation. The filmmakers claim to struggle, even now, to understand how their father could defend some very nasty people who were clearly not innocent. However, I simply do not believe that these educated, wealthy, articulate women are confused about that. It is quite obvious that the clients’ innocence or guilt had absolutely nothing to do with Kunstler’s choices, and this is true for any good defense attorney. What they defend is the legal system itself, by making it earn its legitimacy. The daughters’ alleged confusion about that is, in my view, just a dishonest patina added to the picture to dumb down the message, and maybe to inject some artificial mystery into what otherwise is a mildly interesting report.

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