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Watching former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords painstakingly limp her way back from a bullet to the brain requires patience and fortitude. Those are the same qualities Giffords calls on, day after day. The documentary, Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down does not glitter. It paces forthrightly from tragedy to integrity to the tune of Tom Petty’s “Won’t Back Down.”

On March 27, 2011, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, her signature silver rose brooch on her jacket, called forth her supporters for one of her Congress at the Corner rallies at the Safeway grocery store near Tucson in Giffords’ home state of Arizona. There, the shooter, Jared Loughner, obsessed with Giffords, injured her and 14 others and killed eight more with a Glock 19 semi-automatic pistol with a 33-round magazine.

From that moment, Giffords crawled to survive. What this documentary shows, as well as anything, is what it takes to relearn to walk and talk when the brain has been hollowed. The Representative is shown working with her physical, speech, and music therapists. She is aphasic and struggles with perseverance, that is, repeating nonsense words — for Giffords the word was “chicken.” But, like many aphasics, she can still sing.

While recuperating, Giffords watches her beloved husband, Mark Kelly, complete an assignment as an astronaut with NASA and begin a career as a politician. She coaches him in speech-making and gesticulating, and he wins a Senate seat.

Directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West bring their chops as directors of the note-worthy documentaries “RBG” and “My Name Is Pauli Murray” about two other courageous women. Cohen and West include pictures of Giffords as a girl and as a young woman working at her parents’ tire company. Appearing in the documentary are her mother and her step-daughters, her staff and Congressional colleagues, and her medical support personnel.

Filtered prominently throughout is an interview with President Barack Obama plus news films of his speeches at memorials for the Tucson dead. His words counterbalance claims by NRA’s Wayne LaPierre about good guys and bad guys and guns. But the chief interviewee is Sen. Kelly relating details of his wife’s long slog.

Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down poignantly says as much about the struggle to stem gun violence as it reveals the struggle to live again.

EDITOR’S NOTE:Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down is AWFJ’s Movie of the Week for July 15, 2022.

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Martha K. Baker (Archived Contributor)

I first taught film at Lakeland College in Wisconsin in 1969 and became a professional film reviewer in 1976 in St. Louis, Mo. Through the years, I have reviewed films for the St. Louis Business Journal, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Episcopal Life, and KWMU (NPR), among other outlets. I've reviewed at KDHX radio, my current outlet, for nearly 20 years.