Peace Officer is the most important film you will see this year. While it doesn’t address the racial aspect of police brutality that is a prominent issue right now in the US, it shines a stunning light on the militarization of the police force and how the police are in many cases escalating violence unnecessarily. It’s also told in the most gripping way – by reconstructing crime scenes with the film’s protagonist, William “Dub” Lawrence, a former Sherriff who bought the SWAT gear and trained some of his men in the very tactics that eventually led to the death of his son-in-law. What’s particularly astonishing is how Dub finds evidence - lots of pieces of evidence, some damning to the police involved - that the police officers investigating the events didn’t find, months or more after the fact. The thing that struck me the most was that it really seems like something that could happen to anyone: the cases they follow in this film were mostly minor infractions, and they even tell of a situation where officers raided the wrong house on a military AWOL charge and the owner had come to the door with a baseball bat. The officer told the owner something to the effect of “it’s a good thing you didn’t come to the door with a gun, or I’d have wasted you.” Really that guy is lucky that he didn’t get shot, as the film shows other situations where people with golf clubs or other weapons, thinking their house is being invaded, get killed. The film ends on a slightly hopeful note, though: despite all the unnecessary death, the Utah legislature made some changes to the oversight and accountability of investigations at the hands of police, and advocates are trying to get further measures enacted.
This is the second most important film you’ll see this year. It’s essentially about the FBI entrapping people. I actually don’t want to go into too much detail because there’s a bit of an unexpected plot twist that makes the film much more enjoyable (the first half is honestly pretty boring) but I will say that these filmmakers had unprecedented access to an FBI informant who let them film him on a mission and the results are terrifying. It's also interesting because they basically frame the informant (and any informant, really) as a sociopath. It’s definitely a must-see.
Can you sense a theme? I had an entire day full of films about distrust in government and I left feeling very depressed and angry and helpless. Deep Web is about, well, the "deep web" - the semi-secret, open web, particularly a marketplace called The Silk Road, a sort of anarchist internet utopia which was used for selling illegal drugs, among other things. It follows the story of both the Silk Road and also Ross William Ulbricht, who is arrested for his involvement in it. The scary part is how this guy sort of becomes the government’s scapegoat and takes the fall when he clearly wasn’t the only person operating this thing and how he doesn’t seem to be getting a fair trial. Also, the whole war against drugs is highlighted in a way that really shows the absurdity and uselessness of it all, since new sites immediately replaced The Silk Road when it was taken down.