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Outrage (2009)
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by Jay Seaver

"Let it all out."
4 stars

There are grounds to critique how "Outrage" is put together as a movie, and plenty of them, but they are relatively minor. For the most part, the film does what a good piece of documentary journalism should, in that it presents information clearly, in a manner that is entertaining enough to keep an audience's interest without diminishing the subject matter's import. Even if a viewer disagrees with Kirby Dick's message or tactics, he or she must admit that he argues his point reasonably well.

That point is this: Many politicians and members of their staffs are gay and in the closet, which ordinarily would be their own business. Unfortunately, a sizable portion of this group acts in a way that is directly counter to the interests of other GLBT people, and that sort of hypocrisy should not be allowed to stand. The film offers up examples of these politicians, shows the process of investigating, and makes an attempt to explain why so many smart and capable people would choose to live with such a contradiction in their lives.

Writer/director Dick is not terribly subtle in how he does this: He introduces a politician, presents the evidence that despite his public front (the outed politicians are, by and large, male and conservative), he enjoys the company of other men, and then displays a graphic of their dismal voting record on issues like marriage rights, anti-defamation laws, and AIDS relief: A big "NO" pops up (with thumping sound effect) next to each time the issue was raised and is followed by a tiny percentage of gay-friendly votes. That the template is obvious from the second time its used is not a knock against it; it makes its point very clearly.

Dick also takes care to make sure that the outings are substantiated, either by having people speak on the record or making sure that any anonymous sources are confirmed. The journalists who originally broke these stories on their magazines and blogs are very careful to point out that there's no room for doubt in these stories; they must be able to withstand scrutiny. Most seem like they would, although in one or two cases it did seem as though the independent sources weren't necessarily so independent as claimed.

The film also has some structural problems. The opening graphics, for instance, state the film's premise but also say that there's a conspiracy to keep this secret. "Conspiracy" is a loaded word, and the film does not follow up on this accusation in a very substantial way. It also has a tendency to return to points that don't need reiteration. Take the case of Charlie Crist, the governor of Florida. Early scenes do a fair job of establishing that he's gay, claims otherwise, and actively works against gay rights. Returning to him multiple times almost seems to work against the film's aims: He's got a gregarious, charming manner that are a great asset to his political career, and it's almost possible to sympathize with this guy who has to keep answering the same questions despite there not being much new proof; we forget just how damning those original accusations were.

The movie keeps coming back to him, though, because his story fits the topic in so many ways, and he's one of the few subjects that does not have "former" attached to his position when identifying subtitles come up (aside from the reliably entertaining Barney Frank). It also sidesteps the ethics of outing, to a certain extent: Early claims of how it is much better for all involved to be out of the closet, no matter how that happens, dangle until late interviews with former New Jersey governor James McGreevey and former Arizona legislator Jim Kolbe. Many of the interview subjects say that normally, they'd never out someone, but in these circumstances... The line is not well-defined, and offers critics a chance to charge that the filmmakers are as hypocritical as those they criticize.

And maybe they are, in some ways - there's room for debate about the film's ethics and the politics. Its information, on the other hand, seems pretty solid, and the presentation is good. That's what makes for a good documentary, if not a perfect one.

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originally posted: 06/13/09 02:27:48
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This film is listed in our political documentary series. For more in the Political Documentary series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Tribeca Film Festival For more in the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Edinburgh International Film Festival For more in the 2009 Edinburgh International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Traverse City Film Festival 2009 For more in the Traverse City Film Festival 2009 series, click here.

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  08-May-2009 (R)
  DVD: 01-Sep-2009


  DVD: 01-Sep-2009

Directed by
  Kirby Dick

Written by
  Kirby Dick


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