John Lewis: Good Trouble, 2020, 3 ¼ stars

Necessary trouble

John Lewis: Good Trouble  paints a hero’s portrait

Exclusive to MeierMovies, July 12, 2020

Difficult times demand leaders with courage and wisdom. They also demand documentaries on those leaders. John Lewis is such a leader, and director Dawn Porter’s new film showcases his career, personal life and disposition fittingly, if a tad conventionally.

John Lewis was born in Troy, Alabama, in 1940, the third of 10 children from a sharecropping family. But by age 21, he had become one of the original 13 Freedom Riders. Two years later, Lewis, as the new leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, was addressing – alongside his mentor, Martin Luther King, Jr. – hundreds of thousands of Americans during the March on Washington. And since 1987, he has represented Georgia’s fifth Congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“The reason why he’s effective as a leader,” the recently deceased Rep. Elijah Cummings reminds us in the documentary, “is because he’s lived it.”

Porter’s doc doesn’t exactly redefine the genre, but it does a decent job of reintroducing us to Lewis, who, at 80 years of age and ill from pancreatic cancer, is approaching the end of a long and mighty life. By offering a nice blend of formats – talking heads, historical footage and cinema vérité – Porter lets Lewis’s life speak for itself. And though it paints an overwhelmingly favorable view of Lewis, it is rarely preachy or overtly political. In that regard, it resembles Lewis himself.

Lewis, in the doc, is seen encouraging his supporters to get into “good trouble, necessary trouble” for important causes. But the doc is most necessary for those who don’t necessarily support Lewis. That includes those who might believe the work of the Civil Rights Movement is over or societal injustice is no longer a threat. But the film is also necessary for those who seek to corrupt Lewis’s message of equality and non-violence by resorting to vandalism, riots and looting. It seems we all still have something to learn from Lewis.

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