Hot Docs 2014: The Writer with No Hands Review

The Writer with No Hands

The Writer with No Hands


In 1997 screenwriter Raw Deal screenwriter Gary DeVore disappeared. A year later his body was found submerged in the California aqueduct without his hands. No one knows what happened, but British writer Matthew Alford has been obsessed with the case for years. He’s convinced that Alford was murdered as part of a conspiracy involving the military’s control over Hollywood’s depiction of warfare. Director William Westaway hooks up with Alford after years of research that has yielded more questions than answers. Together they travel to Los Angeles, speaking with folks like legendary cinematographer/director Haskell Wexler about the military’s apparent stranglehold over the film industry and stumble their way through a variety of dead ends, curious leads, and frustrated friends, family, and acquaintances of the long deceased screenwriter. It’s clear that something strange happened to DeVore, but also clear that the filmmaker and writer have no chance of uncovering the truth. They’ll merely expand the mystery.

However, that doesn’t really seem to matter much to Westaway. Though he’s certainly intrigued by DeVore’s murder, his film is really about Alford’s obsession and how it’s slowly taken over his entire life. Alford’s wife speaks candidly about how concerned she is that her husband will never move on or support his family properly. Alford himself is well aware of the director’s intentions and is very critical on camera about how he is being grilled and the film is turning into something he didn’t intend. As a result, Wesaway’s doc can be an uncomfortable watch. However noble his intentions, the director seems to be taking advantage of his subject and presenting him in a light that was never intended. The fact that the director offers criticisms of this approach in his movie does lesson the sting, but it still feels at least mildly exploitative. As a combined portrait of unknowable mystery and life-crushing obsession, The Writer with No Hands is certainly an intriguing movie. As a documentary, it’s a dubious creation that borders on unethical despite being self-aware. So, it’s an interesting documentary to be sure, just one that leaves a sour taste in the mouth that feels somewhat inappropriate. (Phil Brown)


Monday, April 28, Scotiabank 3, 9:45pm

Tuesday, April 29, TIFF Bell Lightbox 4, 8:30pm (RUSH ONLY)

Friday, May 2, Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, 11:15pm

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