Jordan Davis was murdered the day after Thanksgiving in 2012. He was with three close friends, all of whom are black, stopping off at a petrol station to buy some chewing gum and cigarettes. The group were listening to their music loudly, which sparked a confrontation with the 45-year-old white male Michael David Dunn, who asked them to turn the sound down. When Jordan responded in a hostile manner, the middle-aged software developer returned to his car, picked up a handgun – and shot at the vehicle 10 times, killing the 17-year-old Jordan in the process.
This tragic, devastating fatal encounter works as a catalyst to explore a nation with a flawed justice system, as Silver scrutinises over the self-defence laws, the notion of ‘standing your ground’ which ultimately puts one man’s word against another. In this case, Dunn claimed the victim had a shotgun on him, hence why he shot at him – but it’s evidence that was never recovered. It’s a pertinent tale, and while racism isn’t a prevalent theme (this wasn’t considered to be a hate crime) it’s emblematic of an ignorance in society, where the perpetrator was ingrained with a preconceived perception of the black community informed by their media representation. As Jordan’s friends point out – they are labelled as thugs, but the persistent law-breaker Justin Bieber is merely ‘misled’.
For the most part, this tale is set in the courtroom, and this is just as compelling as you would expect, as a strand of cinema that so often spawns such engaging features – except this carries more weight, as it’s real. The victims are real, the bereaved are real – and that’s where this differs. But it’s still of great commendation to Silver for bringing this to the screen in such emphatic fashion, as the witnesses’ testimonies in particular are remarkably well presented, seamlessly edited together to give us the full story, adding to the sense of havoc about the situation, making it seem almost as though it’s happening in real time, narrated by those who were there, from the boys in the car, to Dunn’s fiancé, who was in the shop buying wine.
The picture, much like Silver’s preceding feature, looks beautiful too, proving that where documentaries are concerned, it’s not just the subject that makes for an absorbing watch, but the manner it is presented. So while this tale is already a fascinating one, that’s only half the job, and the masterful structure and pacing brings this tale to life, in a haunting, deeply upsetting manner.