(director/writer: Ramin Bahrani; cinematographer: Adam Stone; editor: Aaron Wickenden; music:T. Griffin; cast: Richard Davis; Runtime: 89; MPAA Rating: NR; producers; Daniel M. Turcan, Johnny Galvin, Charles Dorfman, Ramin Bahrani, Jacob Grodnik: A Showtime release/Nortiz Films; 2022)
“Informative and quirky documentary.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Ramin Bahrani (“Chop Shop”/”The White Tiger”) is the writer-director of this informative and quirky documentary about a character who loves the attention and relishes hogging the screen. It’s Bahrani’s debut as a feature documentary filmmaker. The observant realist filmmaker tells the twisted story of Richard Davis, who in 1969 was a bankrupt pizzeria owner whose two pizza parlors burned to the ground over suspicious fires. Soon after Richard invented the modern-day bullet proof vest. To prove his product worked, he’d put his life on the line by having weapons hit him when fired at point-blank range into his stomach and filmed it as proof the vests worked. Over the years, he was shot this way a total of 192 times.
Richard began in the late 1970s a Michigan-based company, Second Chance, which made him a wealthy and influential man in his community. One of the people he hired was an honest cop, Aaron Westrick, whose life was saved by the vest.
It’s an American Dream story, showing the country offers opportunities for success and if you fail at first there are second chances. But it also shows the dangers if capitalism goes unchecked.
Richard turns from hero to villain when he knowingly puts Zylon in his vests that makes them lighter even if tests show it can’t stop a bullit. The scoundrel knowing the faults of Zylon still sells this product to his beloved military and police forces around the country, and when the vests can’t perform as advertised our boy has to answer some questions.
Davis has problems with telling the truth and is a gun-toting narcissist, spouting extremist right-wing views that made him unbearable. To promote his product, he made kooky and untrue films that exaggerated the benefits of his product. He loudly carries on as a voice in favor of the gun lover and a defender of the 2nd amendment. Eventually after divorcing many wives and caught in many lies, his company in the town of Central Lake in northwest Michigan is under fire.
How the story of this eccentric who cared only about saving himself unfolds makes it seem like an oddball documentary the great documentary filmmaker Werner Herzog would make if he filmed such a colorful, unethical and jokey character. But for me, I found the subject grew tiresome and the film floundered for long periods until its surprise tragicomic ending in the final fifteen minutes.
It played at Sundance.
REVIEWED ON 3/5/2022 GRADE: B –