Voices are rarely raised in “16 Shots.” But you can feel anger coursing through this film, and it says far more than loud words could.
The documentary, directed by Richard Rowley, recounts the killing of Laquan McDonald, a 17-year-old black man, in 2014. He was holding a knife while walking in a street and was shot by a white Chicago police officer — a response that was at first deemed justified by the authorities.
Yet a video of the event wildly contradicted initial accounts, and investigations refuted early police reports, leading to accusations of a cover-up. Protests and demonstrations followed; the police superintendent was later fired, and the mayor, Rahm Emanuel, declined to run for re-election. The resulting trial of Jason Van Dyke, the officer who shot McDonald, shook the city.
Rowley interviews activists, witnesses, jurors and police representatives. Their frustrations would be easy to inflame, yet the director and his crew listen closely to what is being said, and allow time for those interviewed to work through their thoughts.
To be sure, the case has been extensively covered in the media, leaving this film to function largely as a summary of the shooting and the trial. And at times the pacing veers toward the overly deliberate with too many slow-moving scenes of the Chicago skyline and the like.
Still, “16 Shots” remains valuable as a record of past events that hold sway over the present. Laquan’s shooting is “a story at the center of our racial nightmare in this country,” one journalist says at the film’s end. “I would go so far as to say it’s a matter of life and death.”
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 33 minutes.