Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Review: "Outrage"

Kirby Dick's near infamous new documentary Outrage started causing controversy before it was ever released. It was also probably the cause of lots of discomfort and hang wringing in Washington, the main target of this incendiary and pointed doc that takes a hard look at closeted gay politicians with abysmal gay rights voting records..

I'll admit when I first heard the premise of Outrage, I had mixed feelings - the idea of outing people against their will is a major and often painful taboo. On the other hand, I've always believed that hypocrisy and injustice must be exposed wherever it rears its ugly head, and for homosexuals to bury themselves in the closet, lead a double life, and vote against the rights of others like them seems to be the ultimate act of betrayal.

As it turns out, the film is not the unabashed mass outing that I had expected. Fair and balanced it isn't, but it never makes the claim to be. Instead it is a much more clear-eyed and even tempered look politicians around whom gay rumors have swirled for years who have consistently voted against gay rights, and asks the simple question: why?

Barney Frank in OUTRAGE, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Most of the politicians profiled in the film are Republicans, which isn't surprising given the conservative nature of the Republican party. But there are a few Democrats that fit the bill too, mostly due to the political liability that stems from being openly gay. The film centers around the efforts of Michael Rogers, an activist and founder of BlogActive.com, which is dedicated to outing anti-gay homosexuals in government.

It is a legitimate question to ask whose job it is to out these men, who are so obviously self-loathing and self serving as to continually hide who they truly are and lie to themselves and others, but it's hard to argue with Rogers' righteous indignation. What these men are doing is tantamount to treason in the eyes of many, and Rogers hopes that exposing them will not only help them be honest with themselves, but also improve their voting record.

Through interviews with outed politicians such as New Jersey's disgraced former governor, James McGreevy, to openly gay Senator Barney Frank, Outrage examines the effect the closet has had on American politics, and its repercussions on their personal lives. Using firsthand testimonies with men who claim to have actually had sex with men like Senator Larry Craig and Florida governor Charlie Crist, the film eschews mere gossip and speculation for something more substantive. This is no malicious hit piece, it's simply a film that wants, no, demands some answers.

Larry Craig’s mugshot in OUTRAGE, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Regrettably, it never takes the time to consider the damage it may cause. That McGreevy is to himself and others now is admirable, but the damage his lies caused to his family is only briefly glossed over when considering why the spouses of these men stand by them. But for the other men who did not participate in the film who are the target of its attacks, the potential personal and public repercussions are seemingly ignored.

Ultimately, however, Outrage succeeds in making a powerful indictment of those who are willing to throw others like themselves under the bus to save their own skin. The information put forth is nothing new or particularly groundbreaking, but it's pretty searing, damning stuff. I hesitate to call it an essential documentary, but the more people who see this the wider the closet door swings. And then maybe, at last, the cry for justice will be hard to ignore.

GRADE - ★★★ (out of four)

OUTRAGE; Directed by Kirby Dick; Featuring Barney Frank, Tony Kushner, James McGreevy, Michael Rogers; Not rated.

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