Like the young social activists at its center, the documentary "Radicalized" is propelled by a ragged energy, a fuel that's equal parts outrage and idealism.
To chronicle the Occupy Los Angeles movement and its offshoots, first-time director Sam Slovick, an actor-turned-journalist, put himself smack in the kinetic thick of the street action, recording a year's worth of protests and skirmishes with police. The result is a dispatch from the front lines, edited from thousands of hours of footage, which can feel as urgent and as unfocused as some of the onscreen events.
FOR THE RECORD, Sept. 17, 8:28 p.m.: In an earlier version of this review, the headline incorrectly labeled the movie "Radicalism."
That marks a crucial distinction from mainstream coverage of Occupy, in all its various locations and incarnations. Slovick wisely attempts no summing up, presenting his material without a distancing overlay of narration or explanatory captions. He observes, and he leaves the material to provoke what it will in the viewer.
The film zeros in on a collective of 15 twentysomethings who share a small Echo Park apartment with uncounted roaches. There are telling references to the lives they left behind to practice "horizontalism," a.k.a. nonhierarchical direct democracy, and dumpster diving. Variously self-described as anarchists, comrades and bodhisattvas, they use a carefully parsed vocabulary that reflects the forging of convictions into a way of life.
Slovick is alert to the enormity of their mission and the inescapable vagueness of wide-ranging goals. Precisely how do you stop being "complicit with an oppressive system," as one collective member puts it?
The director doesn't pretend to know the answer. His film shows that same activist, a year after the first Occupy protests, taking a break from an endeavor that became "too heavy" for her. Her former comrades soldier on, clearly energized by the uphill battle.
MPAA rating: None.
Running time: 1 hour, 54 minutes.
Playing: Arena Cinema, Hollywood.