Coming on the heels of his Oscar-winning 20 Feet From Stardom, Morgan Neville once again shows his extraordinary capacity to tell complicated non-fiction tales with a subtlety and a dexterity rarely bettered. Joined by long-time collaborator Robert Gordon, the two dive deeply into one of the most profound and influential moments of American political life: the debates between stalwart conservative William F. Buckley and iconoclastic progressive Gore Vidal.
Gordon and Neville structure the film like a prize fight, and the intellectual pugilism is as intoxicating as any match between titanic heavyweights. The film excels not only through effective use of vintage footage, but through a series of probing and enlightening interviews that not only shed light on their subjects, but demonstrate the ability from even those champions of one side or the other to find fault in the champion and see the glory in their ostensible opponent.
The debates, and the politics, inexorably linked these two together in ways that the film explores at length. Yet it’s the echoes of these very points of contention that still drives political discourse not only in the US but throughout many other democracies. The liberal/conservative divide has rarely been so well presented as almost existentially antithetical, yet their shared, passionate belief in what they both felt to be a country worth fighting for. The film is stellar, the subjects bigger than life, and absolutely one of the best documentaries of the year.