Sacco and Vanzetti Movie Review

To some extent, popular movements and agitators rely on their martyrs to keep the juices flowing. History is littered with examples of causes that languished in apathy and obscurity until blood was spilled, whether in a public square during a demonstration or inside the stone walls of an execution chamber. So it is with the notorious 1927 execution of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, two most likely innocent men who appeared to have been framed by an establishment fearful of both immigrants of the "wrong" kind and any sort of popular social justice movement. Seemingly good men both, probably guilty of nothing more than political activism, they would serve as standard-bearers for much of what was wrong about America during its period of greatest upheaval, when the promise of the world's most powerful democracy quite often corrupted and left for dead.

Peter Miller's Sacco and Vanzetti could have been the purest bathos, being as it is the moving story of how two Italian immigrants came to America looking for a better life, only to find racial prejudice and railroaded justice. A producer on some of Ken Burns' landmark docu-series, Miller has a firebrand's sense of injustice -- more often muffled in Burns' down-the-middle films -- which he lets show here from the start in no uncertain terms, but doesn't completely allow to wrest the story away from him. That is, the desire to make political points is very much in evidence here (why else to place lefty historian and People's History of the United States author Howard Zinn as one of the primary talking heads?) but it doesn't often overwhelm Miller's need as a documentarian to record the truth in some unvarnished fashion. Not often. There are times, of course, when the indignation and need to place Sacco and Vanzetti in the hallowed hall of left-wing martyrs takes over completely, as when one interviewee states that the story should be referred to as "The Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti."

The story itself is heartbreaking enough without embellishment. Vanzetti, the loner, was a bookish and rather gloomy peasant's son and baker's apprentice, while Sacco, a gregarious family man, came from a rather more prosperous family; both end up in the Boston area in the early twentieth century and start drifting into progressive politics. The two fall into the orbit of Italian anarchist Luigi Galleani, who openly advocated violence against the system -- not an empty threat in America at the time when class strife and targeted bombings of authority figures had provoked panic on the part of the establishment, which saw no problem with throwing away the rule book when it came to punishing radicals, especially the darker-skinned, Catholic new arrivals.

In 1920, on the flimsiest of excuses, Sacco and Vanzetti are arrested for supposedly taking part in a payroll robbery that resulted in two murders. After a monstrously unfair trial -- in which one jury member was heard to say to another, "Those guineas may be innocent," only to be answered by, "They should hang anyway" -- based on no evidence and presided over by a judge who cared more for the defendants' political views than culpability, and years of appeals, they were executed in 1927. Protests over the execution were frantic and constant (martial law was even declared in Boston), reaching as far abroad as Africa.

Miller uses a battery of contemporary historians, as well as aged neighbors and relatives of the two to weave his story together. While a more than competent documentarian, his approach borders on the dry, enlivened mostly by the readings of Sacco and Vanzetti's tragic correspondence (Tony Shaloub does the honors for Vanzetti, while John Turturro does passionate work with Sacco's bittersweet and poetic musings). The parallels to today, with terrorist bombings and a government over-eager to curtail civil liberties and scapegoat foreigners to combat it, are easily made; too easily in fact, with commentator after commentator talking about the case's relevance to today without getting into specifics. A conclusion comparison the case to the post-9/11 era does rather too glib a job; appropriating Sacco and Vanzetti as the all-purpose symbols of resistance, in some sense denying them their unique humanity just as their executioners did.

Cast & Crew

Director :

Producer : , Carey Linton

Starring : , , Howard Zinn, Arloe Guthrie


Comments

Sacco and Vanzetti Rating

" OK "

Rating: NR, 2007

Editors Recommendations

'X-Men' Director Bryan Singer Sued For Alleged Sexually Assaulting 17 Year-Old Boy

Bryan Singer, who is a director, producer, and writer of more than 15 productions...

'X-Men' Director Bryan Singer Sued For Alleged Sexually Assaulting 17 Year-Old Boy

Jenny McCarthy Debuts Giant Rock (Oh, And Engagement) On "The View"

Congratulations to Jenny McCarthy and Donnie Wahlberg, who are engaged now, according...

Jenny McCarthy Debuts Giant Rock (Oh, And Engagement) On

Who Was The Mastermind Behind Game Of Thrones' Purple Wedding?

Yikes, GoT fans! Was Sunday night’s episode of Game of Thrones even more shocking...

Who Was The Mastermind Behind Game Of Thrones' Purple Wedding?

Miley Cyrus' Hospital Stay Extended Over Severe Allergic Reaction

It might be a while until Miley Cyrus is back on her grind (or her twerk, as the case...

Miley Cyrus' Hospital Stay Extended Over Severe Allergic Reaction

Is Tom Hardy The Right Choice To Play The Next Bond?

Tom Hardy has been the public’s number one choice to replace Daniel Craig...

Is Tom Hardy The Right Choice To Play The Next Bond?

Lorde Finally Meets Baseball Star Who Inspired Hit Track 'Royals'

Lorde burst onto the world's music scene last summer with her smash hit 'Royals.'...

Lorde Finally Meets Baseball Star Who Inspired Hit Track 'Royals'

Jay Z Announces Second Budweiser Made in America Music Festival To Be Held In Los Angeles

Jay Z is one of the music's most successful entrepreneurs and he is now making...

Jay Z Announces Second Budweiser Made in America Music Festival To Be Held In Los Angeles

AC/DC Aren't Retiring After All, It's Just One Band Member

Finally, after three whole days of unchecked speculation online, AC/DC have...

AC/DC Aren't Retiring After All, It's Just One Band Member

Lady Gaga Startling Unedited Versace Ad Snaps Leaked

Lady Gaga has become the latest celebrity to find themselves in the middle...

Lady Gaga Startling Unedited Versace Ad Snaps Leaked


More recommendations