To call Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992 a cinematic masterwork seems to be an understatement, lofty praise that seems insufficient to describe the artistry and truth-telling that comprises this film by Academy Award-winner John Ridley (12 Years a Slave).
A documentary that doesn't so much feel like a documentary, Let It Fall is a powerful reminder that the racial tensions in Los Angeles didn't begin, or for that matter end, with the Rodney King verdict. Instead, the Rodney King verdict threw gasoline on an already existing flame caused by years of divisive L.A. leadership, most specifically that between Mayor Tom Bradley and Police Chief Daryl Gates, and at least 16 deaths by police-administered chokeholds that led to death before the tactic was eventually banned. Unfortunately, in the place of chokeholds the LAPD begin using the same type of metal batons that were used in the Rodney King beating.
Originally released theatrically before broadcast on ABC in April of this year, Let It Fall builds upon the widely seen King footage, which remains jarring and disturbing no matter how many times one has seen it, but then builds upon that footage in ways that are comprehensive and absolutely unforgettable. Instead of merely utilizing "talking heads," Ridley immerses himself within South Central LA, though these days the area is referred to by the theoretically muted term of "South Los Angeles."
When the officers involved in King's beating were acquitted, the acquittal led to several days of civil unrest leaving more than 50 dead and countless other lives destroyed far beyond the high profile cases such as Reginald Denny, Latasha Harlins and others. What makes Let It Fall so incredibly profound goes beyond Ridley's obvious gift for the technical aspects of filmmaking - it's the ways he finds to tell the stories of those involved, those who survived and those who, nearly twenty-five years later, are still trying to figure out how to make sense of it all.
The gift here is that Ridley doesn't reduce the people here to their stories. They are people first. It's a simple yet remarkable way to approach the film and yet it's a way of approaching the film that adds a richness to every event and an emotional dagger through the heart to every devastating moment. Ridley's approach is subtly masterful, introducing our subjects as the Angelenos they are and telling us their experiences and stories before we learn the fullness of their identities. Intentional or not, it's an approach that challenges the audience to look within and examine our own biases.
Yeah, I got 'em. If you think you don't, you're either superhuman or just plain lying.
Let It Fall is a relentlessly personal film, devoid of the usual experts and intellectualized opinions. It's that rare documentary that is a true dramatic tour-de-force because Ridley centers everything, from the original King footage to archival documents to present day interviews, on the people whose lives were directly impacted by the King beating, the police acquittal and the civil unrest that followed. Even the interviews themselves, in ways both obvious and more subtle, reveal continued personal and institutional racism and, I'd dare say, it's even more impactful considering what feels like a renewed wave of racism in a post-Obama America.
Brilliant and unsettling, detailed and intimate and so much more, Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992 is a remarkable film and, in all likelihood, the best film to be made based upon the Rodney King beatings and 1992 Los Angeles. With the precision of a top notch filmmaker and the insight of a human being who understands, John Ridley has crafted one of 2017's most unforgettable documentary experiences.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic