3 ½ Minutes, Ten Bullets
Review by Ali Schnabel
At a Florida petrol station on 23 November 2012, ten bullets rang out across the car park. Forty-five year old Michael Dunn had asked the passengers of the SUV parked next to him to turn down their stereo, after exclaiming to his partner that he hated their “thug music”. Seventeen-year-old African-American high school student Jordan Davis objected – minutes later, he was dead. 3 ½ Minutes, Ten Bullets documents the subsequent legal proceedings, and shines a light on the social and racial issues implicit in the highly publicised case.
The film incites powerful feelings of empathy for Davis’s remarkable parents, but restrains itself from excessive sentimentality – the footage of the pair discussing Jordan and the case feels detached and observational in a way that isn’t intruding on, or exploiting, their grief. Dunn is presented mostly in footage of his court testimony and recorded audio of prison phone calls to his partner. In these, he is perennially unaware of the implications of his actions, perceiving himself as the victim – like a “raped girl who’s blamed for wearing skimpy clothes”.
Archival news coverage, court footage and interviews with those who knew Davis are interspersed with dreamy, wide-angle images of suburban Florida. These meandering shots draw attention to the objective stance the film takes on its divisive subject matter. Even though it has such incendiary material to work with, 3 ½ Minutes, Ten Bullets doesn’t tell its audience how to feel or what to think. It barely touches the divisive topic of gun ownership in America, opting instead to focus on the bewildering stand-your-ground law that Dunn’s defence relied upon: that a person can use any level of force (including lethal) if they reasonably believe that they face an imminent threat of serious harm or death.
3 ½ Minutes, Ten Bullets crafts an environment for self-reflection, and encourages a musing on racism in America and its flawed legal system. The question of whether or not the film could have been firmer or more damning is a difficult one – if it were, it could have lost its detached perspective, and made a spectacle of the victims. Instead, it creates a tone that allows the injustice of the crime, and Davis’s family and friends, to speak. 3 ½ Minutes, Ten Bullets simply brings the cameras.