Though she is most deserving of the attention and has earned the adoration, is there really the need for another film about the groundbreaking U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg?
There’s already the Oscar-nominated, top-grossing political documentary “RBG,” which was released in 2018 in celebration of Ginsburg’s 25th year on the bench, her record of progressive activism, and her pop-icon status among young feminists at the age of 85.
The film, which played at the Cleveland International Film Festival, is a heart-felt, fast-paced tribute that tracks Ginsburg’s brilliant legal career and family life, highlights her most compelling pronouncements about the prevention of race discrimination and the fight for women’s workplace rights, and boasts unprecedented access to law making movers and shakers.
“On the Basis of Sex,” a 2018 biographical drama starring Felicity Jones as Ginsburg, was also a box-office success though it received dramatically mixed reviews. The film focused almost exclusively on Ginsburg’s pre-judicial career as a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union and her emergence as a leading women’s rights attorney. And while “the movie may leave you wanting more – more history, more personality, more complicated emotion, more ideological contention,” according to A. O. Scott of The New York Times, do we need more?
For the most part, “Ruth: Justice Ginsburg in Her Own Words” offers more of the same. The film does a great job of dramatizing the convergence of factors – personal, psychological, social and political – that impacted the course of Ginsburg’s life and work. And under the direction of Academy and Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Freida Lee Mock, with original music by Grammy winning composer and violinist Lili Haydn, “Ruth” is an immersive experience sparked by the well-chosen and precisely presented words of Ginsburg the professor, advocate, judge and justice which, as the film tells us, have always been her strongest suit.
But because there are no cameras allowed in the Supreme Court, audio recordings of Ginsburg’s arguments and opinions are accompanied by animated courtroom sketches that create an awkward graphic novelization of the proceedings throughout this film. “Ruth” also includes archival footage and the intimate insights of colleagues who have directly worked with or have been impacted by Ginsburg, but much of the footage, many of these interviewees, and most of what they have to say was already offered in “RBG.”
This film, like the others, successfully asks and answers the question: How does a person with three strikes against her – being female, Jewish and with a young child at home – rise to the highest court in the land? And Mock succeeds in generating a compelling portrait of Ginsburg that is as authentic, engaging and tenacious as the justice herself. But more of her words does not add up to more insight or result in any greater appreciation for this remarkable woman.
“Ruth: Justice Ginsburg in Her Own Words” premiered at the 2019 American Film Institute’s DOCS film festival and is available through Cleveland Cinemas’ virtual platform. Beginning March 1, the film will be shown on Starz, in celebration of Women’s History Month.