December 2, 2015    ArtsReview

Film Review: “F**k You, Mr. Rothman”

The trailer for this short film sets up an expectation that we will see a lot of drama in the typical style of reality TV, but what we actually get is an NPR-style story. It has both flaws and substance; the flaws are in the execution, and the substance is in the content. It feels like a beginning of something that can become great.

My main problem with the film is that we don’t get to see what the subject, Frank Rothman, is talking about. It tells his story but doesn’t show it. The director may have chosen a wrong medium. Rothman is visually engaging, but all the rest comes across as attempts to fill empty visual spaces. For this to be a successful documentary film, the director would need to squeeze into tight and awkward places to capture the real drama, which is probably not easy to pull off as there are legal limits to where the cameras could go. Either that or it could have been a successful audio story in the style of This American Life. A book could also be a more straightforward option.

It’s too bad because the film raises many interesting questions with no obvious answers, a hallmark of great art. The main one for me is: How far are we willing to go to get the approval of our parents? And, how much of that is conscious and how much is not? It is obvious that there is still a conflict in Rothman that hasn’t been fully resolved. There is a great material here that can be unpacked further.

The main theme of the film is beyond the main subject. It is our conception, or rather perception of truth and fairness. Rothman acts as the vehicle to deliver this theme. As he implies in the film, fairness in our legal system is not grounded in reality or truth, but is contingent on the outcome of the battle between two opposing parties. History, as they say, is a story of the winners. Even though we pretend as though winning is a result of being truthful, in reality no such thing exist. The truth does not determine the winner; the winner determines the truth. Our denial of this puts criminal defense lawyers in an awkward position of appearing to distort the truth while playing a critical role in ensuring fairness. What the public assumes to be the arbiter or guarantor of fairness does not actually exist. Truth is a myth. All that we have are winners and losers.

This film highlights this reality, and makes us question the validity of our legal system. People like Rothman are functioning as a coping mechanism for this fundamental flaw. We need them to “fight like hell” because we have no other recourses. If truth could arbitrate, there would be no need for fighting. Just because you win a fight, it doesn’t mean that you are right. Nobody needs to fight in a math class. Winning is just a matter of skill and resources. But the problem is, we don’t have an alternative. Winning is the only recourse we have. So, people like Rothman serve as a convenient scapegoat for our own denial.

Despite the flaws, the director has great potential as a storyteller. I encourage you to see it and reach your own verdict.

More info about the film here »