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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

Terror’s Advocate (review)

Barbet Schroeder’s (Murder by Numbers) talking-head documentary on French lawyer and activist Jacques Vergès starts out as if it’s going to explore, at least tangentially, some of the toughest legal and moral concepts for even the most liberal-minded of us to accept. The discussion of Vergès courtroom defense of an Algerian bomber during the French occupation of that country raises questions like Do even avowed terrorists and mass murderers who do not deny their crimes deserve a “fair” defense? Where do we draw the line — can we draw a line — between “terrorist” and “freedom fighter”? And that’s intriguing enough, if a bit dry. But then a flick that seemed newsy, almost wonky, turns riveting: Why did Vergès drop out of sight for most of the 1970s, and why did he return to suddenly take up the causes of such seemingly indefensible creatures as Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie and Iraqi deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz? Lots of friends and colleagues of Vergès speak on camera, as does Vergès himself, to present a fascinating portrait of a man with a taste for a tough fight and a moral compass that can’t help but champion a lost cause.

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MPAA: not rated

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb

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