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The Art of Political Murder 2020 Movie Review Poster Trailer Online
Director: Paul W. Taylor (as Paul Taylor)
Stars: Yassmín Barrios, Álvaro Arzú, Fernando Penados
Based on novelist Francisco Goldman’s 2007 work of investigative nonfiction (subtitled “Who Killed the Bishop?”), “The Art of Political Murder” is a satisfying portrait of courage, corruption and the murderous deep state that operated inside Guatemala, a country the average American ought to know a bit more about given our history there. What the film fails to mention—notably, the CIA coup that precipitated the 35-year civil war at the center of the story, and the current crisis that is driving climate refugees to our southern border—seem like glaring omissions in this troubled history. But the film’s purpose is otherwise: to prove that justice can prevail, however briefly, even in an atmosphere as poisonous as the one portrayed.
The story that is told concerns the April 1998 murder of Bishop Juan Gerardi, a prominent prelate and rights activist who, two days earlier, had released the findings of the Recovery of Historical Memory Project, a Catholic Church-sponsored truth-and-reconciliation effort investigating crimes against humanity committed by the Guatemalan military. His body was found outside the parish house of his San Sebastian Church, beaten beyond recognition, with a blood-stained concrete block nearby.
Those interviewed by director Paul Taylor ( George Clooney and his filmmaking partner, Grant Heslov, are executive producers) include confidants of the bishop, prosecutors and journalists involved in the case, and a homeless man whose late-inning revelations will have viewers sitting up straight in their chairs. What they all knew right away was the crime was an act of terrorism: The brutal Gerardi murder was such a violation of church sanctity and such an obvious response to the human-rights report that the military would automatically be blamed by everyone. And the message sent by the killing was that the military didn’t care. No one was safe. Alternative theories, concocted to provide alibis and smear the victim, would be presented as usual. Police investigators went so far as to arrest the bishop’s dog.
Delivering justice here would require extraordinary efforts and bravery from a number of people, many of whom could have done the sensible thing and relocated to Costa Rica (which Gerardi himself had done at one point). Although the film is in essence a police procedural and tasked with re-creating the circumstances of a crime more than 20 years old, “The Art of Political Murder” is urgent and suspenseful, even if one is aware that around its periphery exists information that, in a courtroom, would be deemed quite relevant to the case.
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