Directed by T.J. McCarthy
Starring Jeff Williams
Short Film Review by James Burgess
Chronicling the sought-after testimony of one of history’s most iconic figures, T.J. McCarthy’s short film The Execution of Dr. Martin Luther King - a buttoned-up, stately take on such important events is disappointingly stolid. What could have and should have been a tense, intricate and endlessly fascinating account of the untimely death of one of society’s pioneering and most influential statesman, instead becomes bogged down in jingoistic, patriarchal rhetoric and a distractingly static style.
Jeff Williams plays the impassioned lawyer trying to convince the onlooking jury that there’s far more to his infamous assassination than the unsuspecting public consensus has been lead to believe, and his conviction is a rare, undeniable factor. But, it plays out like a piece more rooted in theatricality, almost as if the rather objective audience are another member of the jury - cleverly enough, but that does mean it lacks the kinetic energy that such an important subject demands.
It could have been far more involving, with other characters such as the jury members or the judge, playing a pivotal role in more heated proceedings with contrasting views, which normally catalyse the vast majority of almost any drama set in a courtroom into being fraught and gripping - giving them their trademark agency for confrontation and building up hallmark tension.
Instead however, in place of those, we have an endlessly patriarchal central role for Jeff Williams - whose character’s convinced that foul play lies at the heart of this flagship case. Maybe this remained McCarthy’s intention - to place America and its values at the very forefront of that most fundamentally American of tragic incidents. But the emphasis on this foregrounding proves a distraction from the facts as well as theoretical opinions of the event itself - emotional impact seems to become ignored, in favour of a sea of conspiratorial spiel.
This results in an effect that is only occasionally affecting - albeit a little bluntly. Nevertheless, if its ambition was to deliver its short, sharp message as simply as possible - without the customary bluster of imposing close-ups and treacly score to underpin impact - then it succeeds. Rather like its central and sadly - only - protagonist - The Execution of Dr Martin Luther King is an exercise in concentrated restraint - which starts off as novel, but it quickly becomes very stayed, instead of the essential, topical interpretation of a gross miscarriage of justice it deserves to be.