American Experience Films
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, Shockya
Grade: B
Director:  Barak Goodman
Written by: Barak Goodman
Cast: Janet Beck, Jim Botting, Bill Buford, Jerry Flowers, Lee Hancock, John Hersley, Jeff Jamar, Daniel Levitas, Lou Michel, Bill Morlin, Kerry Noble, Randy Norfleet, Mark Potok, Bob Ricks, Jennifer Rodgers, Kat Schroeder
Screened at: Review 2, NYC, 1/26/17
Opens: February 3, 2017 followed by a PBS premiere on February 7, 2017.

There is reason to believe that Barak Goodman, who wrote and directed this documentary about the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, was not aware of how relevant his film could be today given the results of the recent presidential election.  Filled with the usual array of talking heads, “Oklahoma City” could be taken as an indictment of the five hundred (500!) far-right militias that are making war on our government at a level even more relevant now to the impact that their ideas may have on our newly elected government.  Some of the militias like the strangely named alt.-right are supportive of the White House not because they think that the president will advance their cause to the letter but because they never before enjoyed the birth of an administration that tiptoes around rejecting their support.

While after the Second World War the United States considered communist nations, particularly the Soviet Union, to be the ideological enemy to defeat, our country is now more concerned impact of far-right organizations and especially Islamic radicals.

Goodman’s film, while stressing Timothy McVeigh’s virtually one-man show in accumulating the needed materials for a bomb which he detonated on the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, spends almost half of its ninety-eight minutes giving the backdrop—not way back to third-party structures like the anti-Catholic Know Nothing movement of 1855 but stretching to the mischief-making of two of McVeigh’s forefathers.  One is the Ruby Ridge, Idaho militia run by Randy Weaver, which held a standoff with federal agents in 1992, the Law attacking the compound because of its storage of weaponry to be used against the government.  The other, more publicized one, involved the struggle one year later at Mt. Carmel, outskirts of Waco, Texas, the FBI involved in a standoff with David Koresh’s so-called Branch Davidians.  (Though David Koresh had doused the compound with fuel, leading to a fiery end to remaining occupants, the government was long charged with going beyond limits in burning the unit down.)

Enter Timothy McVeigh, a veteran of the Gulf War who was washed out of the Rangers program, returned to civilian life unable to find a job.  McVeigh got the public eye at first by selling White Power bumper stickers in Waco, then assembling the fertilizer and other equipment to bomb the Murrah building.  His epiphany came from reading the right-wing novel “The Turner Diaries”), written in 1978, a fantasy about blowing up the FBI building in D.C. (The pen is mightier than the sword.)  Among the one hundred sixty-eight dead were children, some of whose bodies we see on the screen, their deaths justified by McVeigh as “collateral damage” (not mentioned in the documentary).  Showing no emotion at the trial, he went to his death by lethal injection in 2001, three months before the bombing of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

The doc should have spent more time focusing on McVeigh, citing the two historic events that influenced him and giving attention to any filmed studies of the trial and the defense that McVeigh’s lawyers chose.  Since talking heads are arguably the chief reason that documentaries are generally shunned by movie audiences, less time could have been spent listening to the array of interviews, and more celluloid on the damage done in Oklahoma City.  Still, given the increase in prestige being enjoyed by the far-right in the West, this film remains essential viewing by an intelligent, politically-minded audience

The U.S. is not the only country to dabble in right-wing politics.  Since multi-culturalism is the bane of the extremists, we see their activity reaching a renaissance today in Europe, with France, Germany and Greece potentially on the verge of electing political leaders who might ban non-white, or at any rate, Muslim immigration.

Unrated.  98 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Comments, readers?  Agree? Disagree? Why?

Story – B+
Acting – B
Technical – B
Overall – B

A still from Oklahoma City by Barak Goodman, an official selection of the Documentary Premieres program at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. © 2016 Sundance Institute.

By Harvey Karten

Harvey Karten is the founder of the The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) an organization composed of Internet film critics based in New York City. The group meets once a year, in December, for voting on its annual NYFCO Awards.

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