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Review: Documentary 'Charm City' probes tense relationship between citizens and police in Baltimore

Review: Documentary 'Charm City' probes tense relationship between citizens and police in Baltimore
Baltimore police officer Eric Winston patrols the city's Southern District in the documentary "Charm City." (John Benam)

In “Charm City,” Marilyn Ness’ documentary about Baltimore’s crisis of police/community relations, the faces of her subjects — dedicated law enforcement personnel, activists, political figures — may be pained, but their efforts to find a healing path forward are palpable and hopeful.

Filmed over three years of record-shattering violence, and shaded by a climate of deep mistrust between cops and people of color after the 2015 killing of Freddie Gray, “Charm City” focuses on a handful of people working hard to repair things.

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Police captain Monique has 16 years on the job, but it’s her traumatic Baltimore childhood, coming from a home of desperation, drugs, and death, that informs her empathetic ways in uniform. In the poor, neglected, drug-riddled Eastern District, a brawny local figure named Alex — once targeted by racist officers, now a hard-working protégé to revered neighborhood patriarch, Mr. C — channels his anger at the injustice he sees every day into street-level programs that help kids, and that interrupt tense street flare-ups before they lead to more homicide statistics. Young, solution-minded city councilman Brandon Scott, meanwhile, believes politics is where real change can occur.

Ness’ verité direction is occasionally sleepy but always sensitive, and Andre Lambertson’s somber, fluid cinematography looks for lived-in beauty wherever possible in blighted areas and often finds it in the cautious, tested spirit of the movie’s everyday heroes. Even when the epidemic of violence touches a beloved character, Ness’ careful quilting of compassion and action across her years of filming suggests a fight that won’t diminish for these citizens.

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‘Charm City’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes

Playing: Starts Friday, Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills

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