Movie Review - Tower (2016)

This year, the United States saw its deadliest mass shooting in an Orlando nightclub. It was one of a dozen mass shootings in 2016. Over the past decade, the U.S. has had at least four mass shootings a year. Several of which have been horrifying school shootings. Unfortunately, the notable ones are when ten people or more died. The Columbine High School massacre in 1999 is one of the most notorious. There's also the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007 and the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in 2012.

Within the past fifty years, there has only been one school shooting, which resulted in more than ten deaths or even more than Columbine. That more deadly shooting was on August 1, 1966 at the University of Texas at Austin. That day, around lunchtime, Charles Whitman, a 25-year-old engineering student, brought a large arsenal on campus, got to the 28th floor of the Main Building and from the observation deck began firing at random people. He shot 49 people. 16 died. 33 were wounded.

Numerous songs have been inspired by this incident, as well as several movies. Various references have been made to this crime in films and TV shows. An episode of A Crime to Remember in 2014 was dedicated to the incident, but this movie here is possibly the first and only, full-length documentary specifically on the University of Texas massacre.

Yes, this movie is a documentary. It premiered at the SXSW Film Festival where it won the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Award, both as Documentary Feature. It's also nominated at the Gotham Awards and the PGA Awards as Best Documentary. It wasn't on the list of 27 submissions for Best Animated Feature at the 89th Academy Awards, but, in reality it could have been.

Director Keith Maitland is as much an animator as he is a camera operator and editor. His last project was for PBS' Independent Lens, which incorporated animation. He does the same thing here. He shoots and gets interviews, as well as archival footage, but the majority of this story is told through animation. There have been several, recent, Oscar-nominated works that have straddled the line between documentary and animated feature or short. I Met the Walrus (2007), Waltz With Bashir (2008) and Last Day of Freedom (2015) are some examples. This movie can join that list.

Sometimes, the animation looks like it's rotoscoped over the archival footage. Most of the time, it's purely Maitland's team recreating beat-for-beat the hour and a half that was the real time of this shooting. Unlike Peter Bogdanovich's Targets (1968) or Kurt Russell in The Deadly Tower (1975), this movie never gives us the perspective of the shooter. It remains on the ground with the victims. Out of the thirty-plus survivors, Maitland puts us in the shoes of about a half-dozen or so of them.

He perfectly captures the terror of that day and even the heat. Despite sitting in a well air-conditioned theater to see this, I felt the heat of that day. The constant sound of gunshots is particularly rattling. It really is like rolling thunder. Even the best action or horror films of the year won't be able to top what Maitland accomplishes here. It is truly thrilling and heart-pounding.

What comes through in the end are these incredible moments of bravery and even cowardice. Each person has their own point-of-view. A pregnant woman in particular has the scariest point-of-view. Maitland immerses us, makes us feel them and get to know them. He even takes time to tell a love story, and it works. It all works wonderfully here.

Not Rated but for language and violence.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 36 mins.


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