Case Number 03868: Small Claims Court

WACO: RULES OF ENGAGEMENT

New Yorker Films // 1997 // 136 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Treadway (Retired) // January 23rd, 2004

The Charge

The shocking truth revealed!

The Case

What exactly happened in Waco, Texas on April 19, 1993? For years, no one knew for sure. That is until 1997, when documentarian William Gazecki presented this film, which takes a hard look at what went wrong and offers what is perhaps the solution.

I remember the media saturation of the case. That the Branch Davidians were a cult; their leader David Koresh believed he was Jesus Christ; that the Branch Davidians were stockpiling illegal weapons in their Waco compound. The ATF and FBI pronounced these accusations as if they were fact and the public believed it. After all, why shouldn't we trust our government implicitly? It's something we'll never learn.

What is amazing about Gazecki's film is that he presents both sides of the story. By doing that, he gains our trust, obviously. But it also gives him credibility, so that when he makes his case, we're in a better frame of mind to accept it.

The meat of the film revolves around the Senate hearings on the FBI/ATF attack; some congressmen are blatantly stubborn and are unwilling to listen to reason. Others are more open-minded. Gazecki frames this material with footage of the Branch Davidians, some who perished in the attack. He also consults religious and military experts, all of whom deflate the "cover story" the FBI stuck to.

Were the Branch Davidians a cult? Gazecki offers evidence that they were not. They were an offshoot of basic Christianity. Did Koresh claim he was Christ? The film argues no; religious experts back that answer. Were they stockpiling weapons? Gazecki brings up the gun culture of Texas and argues that the Branch Davidians had legal guns. The fact that the FBI/ATF did not find the alleged illegal weapons helps prove this. (That this echoes the recent debacle in Iraq is not only coincidental but also very sad.)

Gazecki doesn't flinch. He points out that crucial evidence has been either lost or destroyed by the FBI (he supports his claims with solid witnesses of high reputation). If they had nothing to hide, why go to such lengths? It's not any different than the Zapruder film that was locked away for decades or the infamous Nixon tapes. But by doing such things, they are not helping their case and all it does is cast suspicion. What we do know by the conclusion of this film is that the Branch Davidians' civil rights were denied by the very people who were supposed to ensure them. The very idea that they would attack young children and elderly members goes beyond disgust; it's heinous.

New Yorker presents the film in a full frame transfer that looks good, if not spectacular. There is a layer change around Chapter 8 that causes the film to freeze. Using the scene selection is the only way around it. The film uses a variety of film, video, and infrared stocks that caused an uneven quality even in theaters. There is artifacting and edge enhancement and some scenes are hazy rather than glossy. Still, this looks much better than what you would see on the True Stories or Sundance channels

Audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono. It's serviceable but it won't shatter any glass. At least you will be able to hear the massive amount of dialogue and speeches in the film. But be forewarned, you will be adjusting your sound system.

Extras are all superb. First up is a selection of character profiles. They are useful since they provide updated information for important players in this real life drama.

Next is FLIR footage. The FLIR system is an infared camera that is able to take detailed footage from great heights. Director Gazecki hosts this material, pointing out not only crucial evidence but also the inconsistencies caused by mysterious editing (guess who?)

The extended 911 call made by Branch Davidians Wayne Knight and Steve Schnider (both perished in this February shootout) is harrowing and sad to listen to. It doesn't help the FBI/ATF defense, that's for sure.

A theatrical trailer and promotional spots for the True Stories Channel premiere conclude this package.

Everyone should see this documentary. This is one event in history in which you cannot rely on history books for the answer. This is a powerful documentary in which we learn that things are not what they seem and that brute force without solid concrete proof is not the answer. It's an expensive disc, but this film more than justifies the cost of purchase. If not, it will make one hell of a rental. Whatever choice you make, just remember: there has yet to be a formal apology.

Next case!

Review content copyright © 2004 Bill Treadway; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 97

Perp Profile
Studio: New Yorker Films
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)

Subtitles:
* None

Running Time: 136 Minutes
Release Year: 1997
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* Character Profiles
* FLIR Footage
* Extended 911 Call
* Theatrical Trailer

Accomplices
* IMDb
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0120472/combined