The brilliantly constructed January 6th insurrection documentary Day of Rage (★★★★☆) offers a more compelling and scrupulous account of the Capitol riot than many of the lawmakers who were in the building that day.
Lawmakers like Republican Congressman Andrew Clyde — shown in the film helping to barricade the House chamber doors against intruders on January 6th, and a few months later referring to the insurrection as a “normal tourist visit” — continue to downplay what the whole world saw. Yet, plenty of evidence bears out the film’s bluntly assertive subtitle: How Trump Supporters Took the U.S. Capitol.
The culmination of a six-month New York Times investigation, the 40-minute film compiles bits from thousands of videos, forensically analyzed by the Times‘ Visual Investigations team and synced to provide a clear picture of who did what, when and where in and around the Hill that day.
Listing each source in the end credits, and including reminders at the beginning and end that most of the video footage was “filmed by the rioters themselves,” directors David Botti and Malachy Browne largely allow the participants’ actions to speak for themselves.
Still, Browne’s sober, direct narration adds helpful context to the eye-opening scenes of “normal tourists” raging into the Capitol building wielding bats, crowbars, hammers, and spears doubling as flagpoles. “D.C. is a motherfucking war zone!” one rioter shouts. “We want our country back!” scream so-called peaceful protesters, as they assault the outnumbered Capitol and D.C. Metro Police officers with rocks, pipes, a tossed fire extinguisher, and the steel frame supporting a Trump banner.
Each breach of security is clearly outlined. Graphics single out squads of paramilitary Oath Keepers and nationalist Proud Boys organizing on the Mall, then marching on the Capitol. “It’s utter mayhem, and it’s about to get worse,” Brown intones.
Pretty generously under the circumstances, Day of Rage attempts to account for the rioters’ general guiding principles, rationalizing their common mistaken belief that the 2020 election was stolen from them. They were misled by unprincipled leaders, the film contends, although it does so without venturing into in-depth exploration of the Big Election Lie.
Conveying the heated and often hate-filled emotion that drove the chaos, the filmmakers stick to showing beat-by-beat what went down that day and just afterward. Forgoing talking-head interviews or outside commentary, the movie lets its subjects explain their motivations in real time.
Though some rioters resemble coked-up war reenactors just rolling with the nonsense, others appear deadly serious in their intent to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power by any means necessary.
One harrowing sequence reveals then-Vice President Pence being evacuated from the Senate Chamber, along with an aide carrying nuclear launch equipment(!), moments after Pence’s boss attacked him on Twitter. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Capitol, members of the House hunkered down in the chamber balcony. Delaware Democratic Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester can be seen praying for her life.
In HBO’s equally arresting feature-length documentary Four Hours at the Capitol (★★★☆☆), Rep. Rochester, interviewed on-camera about the riot, is overcome with emotion recalling the terror of that afternoon. An excellent companion to Day of Rage, Four Hours delves with sensitivity and insight into the human stories of staffers on the Hill, and police officers still traumatized from trying to fight off the violent mob.
Though both films are comprehensive in their own ways, neither can be said to tell the whole story of January 6th, 2021 — because a number of those with knowledge of how this deadly insurrection was plotted and carried out have yet to reveal the entire truth. So there may come a time when Day of Rage stands as a quaint reminder of how little we really knew about how close the nation might have come to disaster that day.
But given what we know now, Day of Rage, recently short-listed for Academy Awards consideration (with nominations to be announced February 8), prosecutes a very convincing case against those tourists, and whomever backed them. Just because their coup didn’t succeed doesn’t mean they didn’t try.
Day of Rage is available for streaming for free on Youtube. Visit www.youtube.com and search the film’s title.
Four Hours at the Capitol is available for streaming on HBO Max. Visit www.hbo.com.
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