Forget the likes of The Judge, My Cousin Vinny or even the mighty The Verdict: There are far too few movies about the collegial sparring of lawyers in battle. It’s not a spoiler to reveal that by the end of Camilla Nielsson’s essential Democrats, we see Zimbabwean attorneys Paul Mangwana and Douglas Mwonzora laughing on a park bench. Over the course of this documentary, we watch them argue a working constitution into theoretical existence (at great personal risk), but even with that unthinkable task achieved, the fate of their country is far from certain.
Blessed with unusual access and paced like a courtroom thriller, Democrats weaves in the inchoate thoughts of a citizenry not quite ready for change as well as the competing interests of ensconced party politics. Setbacks, riots and arrests complicate the process, and atop it all sits dictatorial president Robert Mugabe, hardly the picture of benevolence, smiling like a Cheshire cat at efforts he might dismiss on a whim. And still, this film leaves you with the thrill of a good fight fought hard. It’s a scrappy, absorbing tribute to the pragmatic value of compromise, carefully proffered in pursuit of a greater good. America’s candidates would do well to take a page out of this doc’s book.
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