A documentary that shouldn't have to be made, about a law that needn't exist, explored via a crime that could have been avoided: "31/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets" is a thought-provoking, mournful experience, perhaps more so in the wake of the killings in Charleston, S.C.
The film's focus is the trial of Michael Dunn, a middle-aged white man who on Nov. 23, 2012, in Jacksonville, Fla., shot and killed black teenager Jordan Davis at a gas station during an argument over the decibel level of the rap music coming from the SUV that Jordan, 17, and his buddies were in.
Director Marc Silver won approval to film the trial, and the sobering narrative his fixed cameras capture — of a tragedy parsed for some measure of institutionalized justice — extends to the more personal connecting tissue of interviews with Jordan's family and friends. Silver artfully layers that, coolly and calmly, so the weight of the issues — namely how racial profiling and a self-defense law like Stand Your Ground malevolently feed each other — sinks in. The heartache and outrage are there already. The movie wisely doesn't force it. (And if you don't know the outcome, the suspense may prove to be unbearable.)
Silver includes audio of talk radio callers denouncing Stand Your Ground, and they make mountains of sense. We also get to hear county jail recordings of Dunn whining on the phone to his girlfriend about his victim complex, which speaks volumes about simmering bigotry.
But it's the sadness of Jordan's mother, Lucia, that hits hardest. She cries at home, in church, in a car on the way to court, in the restroom during the trial and in front of news cameras as she speaks out for her son and his needless death. For many, the wheels of justice never turn fast enough, no matter how well oiled with tears they are.
"31/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets"
MPAA rating: None
Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes
Playing: Nuart, West Los Angele