Cinema Dispatch: Tread

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Tread and all the images you see in this review are owned by Netflix

Directed by Paul Solet

Another week, another bout of isolation, restlessness, and binge-watching coupled with a release calendar with more holes than our government’s COVID-19 response strategy.  It’s funny because it’s relevant AND devastating!  So without much to talk about other than that Beyoncé movie that I haven’t gotten around to, I decided to try my hand at something I’ve never done for this site before, and that’s review a DOCUMENTARY!  Well okay, I SAY a documentary, but let’s be honest; this is just as much a narrative adaptation as it is that, with the copious amounts of reenactments and the spectacle of its final act, but nonetheless, I’m still gonna count this as uncharted waters for me!  Is this a fun, informative, and at times heartbreaking portrayal of a man pushed to his limits, or does this fail to make its too wacky to be fake premise all that interesting?  Let’s find out!!

Marvin Heemeyer lived in Granby Colorado for over a decade; running a successful muffler shop, driving his snowmobile on the weekends, and all-around getting along with his friends and neighbors.  What no one seemed to know, or only suspected without confirming, is that underneath his pleasant exterior stowed a rage that would fuel him to do something drastic on June 4, 2004.  If you’re not familiar with the story like me then I won’t give it ALL away here, but let’s just say that it involved heavy machinery, a lot of property damage, and a design aesthetic somewhere between Mad Max and the Wacky Races.  The documentary takes us from the start of his time in Granby to the day of THE INCIDENT with interviews of people who were there at the time and, perhaps most enlightening, the words of Marvin Heemeyer himself who left an audio manifesto of sorts to tell his own side of the story of how he got to where he ultimately ended up.  Just how far will one man go to rectify the slights and misfortunes that he believes the world has handed him?  Is there more to the story than one man’s out of control persecution complex that led to this horrifying yet bizarre event?  Heck, maybe everything was just fine but this guy saw Falling Down on cable one too many times!

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“Hey, Marv!  What-cha doing in there?”     “NOTHING!  JUST BUILDING… BIRD FEEDERS!”     “Well that’s just swell!  Let us know how we can help as you are a loved and cherished member of this community!”     “JUST GO AWAY!!”

Considering how anemic releases have been lately, especially ones of any significant quality, I was not only pleasantly surprised by how good this is, it may be the best film I’ve seen since theaters closed.  It’s a brilliant little slice of real-life absurdity that feels depressingly relevant but still kicks you in the pants like any good blockbuster would; providing an engaging experience somewhere between a sobering cautionary tale and a grindhouse thriller and doing EVERYTHING that the Joker movie should have done.  Despondent white dudes being pushed to their wit’s end and taking it out on society is far from a rare topic in art and media, but rarely is it done as well as it is here; simply by being HONEST with so much of its bluster and the almost comical sadness of the disparity between their own perception of their persecution and the actual truth of their circumstances.  Films like Joker or even its better counterparts like say Death Wish are not without some degree of merit when it comes to conveying the warped mindset of their protagonists and even creating emotionally charged circumstances to engage the audience with, but where those films are cagey about how EMBOLDENED it wants its audience to be by the main character, this one pretty clearly (if quite cleverly) has a point of view about the tragedy of it all beyond the suffering of one person.  While I’ll grant that Joaquin Phoenix’s delivery is more refined, hearing Marvin Heemeyer explaining in his own words the story he wants to be told about his life and what he’s planning to do is far more disturbing than anything I saw in that clown movie; which honestly is kind of a great gag on The Joker character in its own right.

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“THE BEAST INSIDE CANNOT BE CONTAINED!”     “Marv, what are you doing in the hot tub?  It’s winter!”     “DON’T JUDGE ME!!”

What’s great about this movie is how it seamlessly deconstructs the myth of the Wronged Man throughout its running time with clever shifts in perspective as we learn more about this community and the people within it.  Marv’s perspective is the only one we see for the first third or so of the movie and it does a decent enough job of laying out his case; using the more coherent segments of his audio recordings to paint a picture of a man trying his hardest to beat a system that seems intent to wear you down.  Heck, I had a GENERAL idea of where this was going and I still found myself at least SYMPATHETIC to the guy’s plight as the city council was painted as corrupt and malicious which rings pretty darn true considering our current political climate.  Then things start to turn and you hear the perspective of the people who were also there as they start filling in the details that Marv had left out in his telling of the story, and things that sounded absurd and cruel start to make more sense as the banalities of regular people trying to do their job around a very fragile and bruised ego.  They also start to play more of Marv’s recordings that portray a less flattering picture of the man as he continues his ludicrous and destructive work, and While I’m sure a lot of the people being interviewed all these years later have their own self-serving agenda and tell their own half-truths, you just see the walls of Marv’s little world close in tighter and tighter as reality refuses to conform with what his sense of victimhood wants it to be.  While I wouldn’t say anything he does in this movie came as a SURPRISE as these kinds of stories have popped up regularly in the last decade or so as more and more angry men are radicalized to violence (especially with the help of certain unsavory segments of the internet), just seeing it all from beginning to end and watching his righteous fury be revealed for the selfishness that it truly is (ESPECIALLY with it being told in his own words) is a chilling reminder of what people are capable of when they don’t seek help or when they refuse to see the world past their own sense of suffering.

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“The world will know my pain…”     “Hey there, Marv!  Need help with anything?”     “SHUT UP, JERRY!”

The last act of the movie is where things go off the rails in the best way possible as the day we’ve been dreading finally arrives and it’s a spectacle to behold.  The fact that no one died in this event (even though a lot of people could have) dulls the edges of his rampage, at least for me, and I found the last half hour so an absolute blast to watch.  The people who were there on that day tell their stories of fear, bravery, and impromptu cleverness, all while we intercut between super slick and glossy reenactments as well as actual footage of the event.  It’s well put together and the sheer unstoppable nature of this armored bulldozer is kind of darkly humorous as the authorities throw everything up to (and possibly including) the kitchen sink to slow this thing down and they just can’t figure out a way to disable it. Again, no one died and as far as I could tell no one got hurt who was in the path of destruction which would have made this a far more somber event to see, and for what it’s worth the adrenaline eventually wears off at just the right time for the rampage’s end to take in the gravity of this utter nonsense.  It’s such a bizarre manifestation of a story we’ve seen time and time again in much more horrific and tragic forms that I think it makes the universal themes of it much easier to digest, which as far as I’m concerned makes this film a success at what it sets out to do and dulls the tastelessness of whatever schadenfreude can be gleaned from this tragedy.

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“Something bothering you, Marv?”     “No!  Why would you say that!?”

As this is my first review of a documentary, I’m a bit stumped as to how to approach it from a critical standpoint; what to engage with beyond the facts of the story and whether they tell it well?  I mean sure, I’ve seen bad documentaries before, but the flaws in those are pretty obvious production limitations or just clearly terrible ideas from the outset rather than flaws within its execution.  Besides that, the whole point is to engage with the narrative rather than the means by which it is told, so if the story itself is engaging the rest is ultimately secondary.  Everything pretty much works seamlessly and stylishly tell a story that basically writes itself, so while I did find SOME things to speak negatively of, they’re really small potatoes in a movie that otherwise does its job perfectly.  The movie throws a lot of names and interconnected relationships at you throughout, and while it becomes MOSTLY clear by the end there are still just so many people in this that I got a few of them confused.  Heck, I’m still not exactly sure what connection there was between the Thompson family and the concrete factory, or if none existed and it was just another manifestation of Marv’s paranoia, but I’m sure a lot of people will pay better attention than I did and it’s not REALLY what you’re here to see anyway.  The other thing is the ending which just happens so abruptly without much satisfaction or closure which I guess is just the nature of the story being told; despite the terror this man inflicted on this community, it seems that things just kind of returned to normal.  If anyone was genuinely traumatized by it, it didn’t really come across here with most of the citizens recalling it with humor or annoyance rather than being haunted by the events; his blaze of glory being extinguished from public memory almost as soon as it happened.  I guess there’s some poignancy to that, but it could have come across a bit better.

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“Welcome back, Marv.”     Judge, I have some news here that will BLOW YOUR MIND!”     “Of course you do, Marv.”     “I brought A LOT of red string!”     “I’d expect nothing less, Marv.”

When they released that Fyre documentary on Netflix I ended up watching it three times, and while this doesn’t have the same consistently tight flow of that movie, it definitely works in a lot of the same ways.  There’s this palpable sense of inevitability running thru the movie as each minute we spend talking about the circumstances leading up to the event, giving it more texture and weight, inevitably brings us closer and closer to its arrival.  If you’re looking for drama, action, suspense, and even a darn good character study, there really isn’t anything else out right now that can match this movie, and I implore you to seek it out whenever you have the chance.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some plans that I need to uh… reevaluate.  I mean I guess it’s less a KILLDOZER than it is an “annoying moped”, but either way the point’s been made.


4 out of 5

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