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Review:  ‘Private Violence’ tackles abused woman’s search for justice

Deanna Walters in "Private Violence."
(HBO)

Cynthia Hill’s documentary “Private Violence,” about the needlessly winding road for domestic abuse justice, begins with a nail-biting scene in a shelter: a pregnant woman’s abuser is on his way there, unless she can persuade him to meet her where cops (called in advance) lie in wait.

From this thriller-ish beginning, Hill’s galvanizing film settles into legal dread as we follow the case of Deanna, presented as a North Carolina woman horrifically battered by her husband on a cross-country trip with their 2-year-old daughter. Her misery was ended by a patrolman in Oklahoma, yet the husband was not arrested.

Our tour guide for Deanna’s search for justice is Kit Gruelle, a survivor and advocate who educates future activists and trains police on how to handle domestic violence calls. (In one role-played scenario, the cops are informed afterward that they missed a telltale sign rehearsed in advance: the silencing stare from the cop playing Gruelle’s husband.)

“Private Violence” makes painfully clear the emotional and legal hurdles battered women endure just to feel safe again in or outside the home. Brisk and disturbing, it should be an eye-opener to anyone whose understanding of domestic violence amounts to the ignorant suggestion, “Why didn’t you leave?”

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“Private Violence”

MPAA rating: None.

Running time: 1 hour, 17 minutes.

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Playing: Laemmle’s Playhouse 7, Pasadena


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