Director Barak Goodman's Oklahoma City reminds us of the tremendous teaching power of a well-told story. If you're a Montana-born, anti-government gun enthusiast, this film is for you. If you're a peaceful anti-Trump protester in a state of suspended horror at the current state of things, there are lessons here for you, too.
Most of us can recall basic facts and images surrounding the 1995 bombing of a federal building in the otherwise unremarkable midwestern town. Who could forget the photograph of the firefighter holding the charred baby? Or how, immediately after the attack, most everyone assumed it must have come from enemies in the Middle East. Remember how unsettled we were when it turned out to be a white kid from New York who mostly acted alone?
In a brief 102 minutes, Oklahoma City gives an overview of the bombing, the rise of white supremacy in the 1990s and how that culture ultimately influenced Timothy McVeigh to kill 168 people in a single blast.
Political unrest gained traction in 1992 after a gunfight in Ruby Ridge, Idaho, between the Weaver family and the United States government. The multi-day standoff ended with one dead U.S. marshal, two dead Weavers and their slain family dog. The Weavers illegally harbored weapons and were likely sympathetic to a nearby faction of the Aryan Nation, but does that mean it was OK for government agents to entrap Randy Weaver when he refused to become an informant? It's complicated. In any case, the incident had a way of re-invigorating a long-closeted white supremacist movement.
The plot thickened in 1993 when a 51-day standoff in Waco, Texas, between the federal government and members of a well-armed cult known as the Branch Davidians ended in fiery tragedy. Hundreds of white supremacists flocked to the site during the conflict, among them the disgruntled 24-year-old Gulf War veteran McVeigh.
Goodman's film surprised me with its measured and detailed account of the circumstances leading up to the Oklahoma City bombing. McVeigh deliberately scheduled the attack on the two-year anniversary of Waco, and he did it independently of any larger terrorist organization or homegrown militia. With so many angry, unhinged people out there, it makes you wonder why catastrophic events like the Oklahoma City bombing don't happen more often. Hell, I can think of a few dudes I know personally who are about a hair's breadth from snapping. More than just gripping cinema, Oklahoma City is a spooky cautionary tale.
Screens at the Wilma Tue., Feb. 21, at 1:30 PM.