Great documentary filmmakers are rare. It’s easy to let the passion for a subject override any sense of personal reflection or artistic style, to strive for some semblance of objectivity or the truth rather than openly take a distinct perspective. It’s why the most famous documentary filmmakers – the likes of Errol Morris, Werner Herzog, and Frederick Wiseman – tend to secure their career early on and become quickly prolific. And in many cases, such as with Morris and Herzog, this leads to a temptation to direct narrative features and see how their unique outlook transfers to openly crafting a fiction.
Now, according to Deadline, it’s Alex Gibney‘s turn to try his hand at narratives. Gibney is set to direct The Action, the story of a group of activists who, in 1971, broke into a Pennsylvania office and stole surveillance and intel that exposed the not-so-secret war that J. Edgar Hoover was waging against anti-war protestors and members of the civil rights movement. That the burglary occurred the same night as the Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier fight suggests a built-in symbolic reflection of the war between conservative nationalists, who agreed with what Hoover was doing, and the liberal contingency who saw Hoover’s actions as pure political suppression that went against everything the country stands for.
The subject material is definitely in Gibney’s wheelhouse, packed with grand historical and cultural detail that will allow the director to plumb the gap between a popular view of history and the personal obsessions and biases that were inherent to the real story. I’m excited to see what Gibney can do, but the transition from interviewees to theatrical or cinematic actors can be bumpy. Herzog’s career as a narrative filmmaker has had as many hits (Rescue Dawn, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans) as misses (Queen of the Desert, My Son My Son What Have Ye Done?), and Morris’s single narrative feature is easily his least memorable film to date. Still, Gibney’s talent for seeing a myriad of storylines in a seemingly simplistic narrative makes me optimistic for this project, and the fact that no one has tackled this tale as of yet makes me think he has a personal view on these startling events.