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Emmys 2017
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'Tower': EW review

Posted on


Current Status:
In Season
82 minutes
release date:

We gave it an A-

With mass shootings such a disturbingly common occurrence in the United States today, it’s becoming more and more difficult to remember a time when news of such senseless violence wasn’t met with the same exhausting thought: “Again?”

Tower, the effective mixed-media docu-drama, transports viewers to a sweltering day in August 1966 on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin when such atrocities were essentially unheard of and captures the confusion and sadness that the country has come to know all too well. 

Director Keith Maitland takes a unique approach to recreating the day when a man armed with a high-powered rifle took over the observation deck at the University Tower. The most apparent aspect of his vision is the film’s visual style, which utilizes rotoscoping similar to what Austin-based auteur Richard Linklater used on Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly. The narrative perspective shifts among victims, observers, and police officers, portrayed by actors, who are then illustrated over in an almost pop-art style. The second essential element of Tower are the words these people speak. While the painted-over actors appear in talking head interviews, which walk the audience through those horrific hour and a half almost in real time, every word they speak, every memory, comes directly from eye witnesses. The source of the dialogue is eventually revealed through the course of the film—treated almost as a twist—and the moment of truth has a profound emotional impact, as everything we are seeing becomes that much more personal. 

That reveal, whether it comes as a surprise or not, shows exactly where the heart of Tower is—squarely with the people on the ground. The man on the observation deck is treated as a minor detail. He isn’t named. His photo at the time of the shooting is never shown. And that may be seen as a sign of our time. At this point, what is compelling about a man with a gun that isn’t exploitative of the atrocities he committed? Tower allies itself with the heroes on the ground and the immeasurable courage they displayed, risking everything for the sake of strangers. 

That’s a story worth telling, one worth remembering, and what makes Tower a must-see. A–