AGAINST ALL ENEMIES (Tribeca 2023) – Review by Beth Accomando

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Producer Charlie Sadoff makes his directorial debut with Against All Enemies, a documentary that looks at how military veterans can be targeted for radicalization by extreme right groups. The title is taken from the military oath that states: “I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

On January 6, 2021, people watching the widely televised insurrection attempt on the capitol witnessed how that oath could be both perverted and ignored. Since a number of key players and participants in the riots had police or military backgrounds or experience, this documentary asks: how can a service member who took an oath to protect the country’s democracy and Constitution do something that puts both in jeopardy?

The film is a straight ahead work of non-fiction that could probably be as effective as a book. There is nothing particularly cinematic about the approach as Sadoff lays out his information. Although he has a point of view and sees January 6 as a warning sign of potential dangers that lie ahead, he allows people who supported the insurrection to have screen time to share their political beliefs without being directly challenged on any particular points.

But Sadoff’s approach is to let both sides have their say and then let us weigh the information we have been given. But as I said, he does have a point of view but he does not want to be in your face trying to argue his case. But there is no denying that some of the people he speaks with are deeply concerned about where our country is heading.

Sadoff uses the insurrection as the jumping off point, but then puts it in a larger context so that we can understand the history that has led us to this point and how that history can provide insights to where we might be heading. The issues he is tackling are complex and it is impossible for a two hour film to cover everything. Individual interviewees such as Michael Breen, president of Human Rights First as well as a former army airborne officer, and Kristopher Goldsmith, founder of Task Force Butler Institute and former army forward observer, provide some of the best and most impactful information. There are a lot of voices in the film, perhaps too many, and on a certain level a more narrow focus might have made the film stronger. In trying to cover so much, the film is sometimes a bit overwhelming. I wanted more time with someone like Goldsmith to go into more depth into what he does but with more than a dozen people interviewed plus newsreel and other video materials, the film cannot spend a lot of time with any one person.

For anyone who watched the events of January 6 unfold and experienced feelings ranging from disbelief to terror to anger and outrage, this documentary helps to wade through those emotions to gain insights but not complete answers into what happened, how it happened, and why. Against All Enemies is not a comforting documentary but then it does not want to be.

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Beth Accomando

Beth Accomando is host of KPBS Cinema Junkie Podcast and author of the blog Cinema Junkie. She also programs film series and events as part of Film Geeks SD at venues such as Museum of Photographic Arts and Digital Gym Cinema. She loves horror, zombies, kaiju and film noir.