Film Review: LA 92

Film Review: LA 92

By Teryl Warren

Injustice.  There were wailing Korean business owners desperately trying to save their livelihoods from looters.  There were white policemen in tears who could neither help nor harm their angry attackers. There was a controversial verdict that literally lit the flame, and from April 29 – May 4, 1992 there was no justice and no peace for anyone in the City of Angels.

In their new documentary film LA 92, Academy Award-winners Simon Chinn and TJ Martin, Emmy Award-winner Jonathan Chinn and Daniel Lindsay present a wholly original and utterly compelling film that brings the story of the LA Riots in the wake of the Rodney King verdict to life.

In short: this is the most gut-wrenching, brilliant and thoroughly un-entertaining film that you simply must see. Period.

With a subject matter that has been so widely documented, it would’ve been easy to take a journalistic approach to the telling of this story. But the filmmakers resisted that temptation, and, instead offer audiences an objective bird’s eye experience structured in 5 symphonic movements.

What we’re left with is a raw, fully immersive tapestry woven together from archived news footage and amateur home video – which has never been broadcast before – that puts the events into a broader socioeconomic context and literally pulls you onto the streets of Los Angeles as the anger spills over and the violence erupts.

The film’s haunting, spell-binding score elevates the vivid visuals that are, at times, too painful to view.  And masterful editing gives audiences just enough time to catch their breath, before, once again, taking their breath away.

The Ghost of Politics Past makes brief appearances in the forms of the high-profile players who were at the center of the events leading up to the uprising such as then-President George H.W. Bush, former L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley, U.S. Congresswoman Maxine Waters and the megalomaniac LAPD Chief of Police Daryl Gates.

But it is the everyday man, woman and child who are truly the stars of this story: young and old, immigrant and American-born, pacifist and passionate and everything in between. In frame after frame, we see them each trying to cope in the chaos that is their America – isolated from the outside world, and with little to no help from law enforcement.

And as the city raged from Simi Valley to South Central, somewhere in the fray lay a 25 year-old man named Rodney King and a 15 year-old girl named Latasha Harlins. Though they ultimately became symbols of something much bigger, LA 92 reminds us that these were simple people who never asked to be anything other than free to live their lives.  They were simple people who could easily have been any one of us.

LA 92 is much more than a film chronicling a major event in American history. It challenges us to be brutally honest about the complex relationship between race, class and disparities in our justice system that remain prevalent to this day. And more importantly, it is a poignant treatise on why we hurt, how deeply we hurt, and what can and will happen when we’ve hurt so much that we just can’t take it anymore.

Tune in when LA 92 makes its world broadcast premiere on National Geographic Sunday, April 30 9/8c.


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