Sort­ing the wheat from the chaff of straight-to-dtv films for al­most 20 years

Empire (UK) - - RE.VIEW -

The Break-out: Tower

On 1 Au­gust 1966, ex-ma­rine Charles Whit­man took up po­si­tion on top of the clock-tower at the univer­sity Of texas in Austin with a small ar­se­nal, and be­gan shoot­ing. In this pow­er­fully evoca­tive doc­u­men­tary, di­rec­tor Keith Mait­land recre­ates the 96 min­utes of hor­ror through Wak­ing Life-style ro­to­scope an­i­ma­tion. Key sur­vivors are in­ter­viewed, but ap­pear on screen as cartoon ver­sions of who they were then, with stun­ning mo­ments late in the film as Mait­land cuts to footage of them now. Blackand-white bleeds into colour as mem­o­ries be­come more real, and there’s great use made of con­tem­po­rary mu­sic and the re­lent­less crack of shots.

It’s a feat to make a heart­warm­ing film about mass mur­der, but this de­liv­ers truly mov­ing mo­ments — as a kid and his cousin, who were shot off their bikes, re­unite 50 years on, stressed to re­live the trauma but de­lighted to see each other; or the mo­ment which brings to­gether Claire Wil­son, who was preg­nant when she was shot and lay on the bak­ing-hot ground, and John ‘Artly Snuff’ Fox, the chess-play­ing teen who dragged her to safety and still feels guilty he didn’t do it sooner. Claire’s story in­cludes the re­mark­able in­ter­ven­tion of a girl, rita Star Pat­tern, who lay down with her in open sight of the killer to of­fer com­fort. there have been so many films about killers that it’s a rev­e­la­tion that Whit­man is of so lit­tle in­ter­est to Mait­land. He never shows his face (un­til Claire shows a LIFE mag­a­zine fea­ture with a photo of him aged three), rarely uses his name and keeps him up in the tower to con­cen­trate on what mat­ters: the peo­ple who were hurt or killed or had to do their job.

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