Ruby Ridge *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Barak Goodman.
Written by: Barak Goodman & Don Kleszy.
Barak Goodman’s Ruby Ridge is a 53 minute documentary companion piece to his feature length film Oklahoma City – which I reviewed a couple of months ago. I felt that as a doc, Oklahoma City should have, and could have been longer – I’m talking Making a Murder, The Jinx or OJ: Made in America length – and that by making a 100 doc on the subject, Goodman limits its effectiveness – he only has enough time to skim the surface of a complex incident – especially since he also covered Ruby Ridge and Waco in the same film. The driving force behind the actions of Timothy McVeigh – as well as Randy Weaver at Ruby Ridge and David Koresh in Waco, Texas – is relevant to modern America – where distrust of the Federal government seems to be growing (and lead, in part, to the election of an idiot to the highest office in the land). My initial reaction to Goodman’s Ruby Ridge is that it’s a better film than Oklahoma City – even as it is a less ambitious one. It is basically a straight forward retelling of what happened from those people who were there – the US Marshalls, the FBI, reporters and one of the surviving daughters of the Weavers. The film is a traditional doc – archival footage, intercut with those talking heads. It works better than Oklahoma City in part because its runtime is better suited to its intent – in Oklahoma City, Goodman is trying to paint a large portrait of what led McVeigh to do what he did – but he doesn’t have the time. Ruby Ridge is a straight ahead telling of what happened.
The film quickly recounts the life of Randy Weaver and his family before the standoff that made them infamous – how he and his wife Vicki Weaver, decided to move to the remote, mountain location of Ruby Ridge in Idaho – where she would homeschool their children. They were very religious, and believed the apocalypse was forthcoming. Randy became involved with the White Supremacists would lived close by – without ever really becoming one of them. He was arrested when an undercover Federal Agent talked him into sawing off some shotguns for him – which was illegal. When Randy refused to show up to court, he became a fugitive – a warrant was issued. But stories circulated about him – which he was a violent gun nut, and because of his location he would difficult to arrest. As US Marshall scouted the area, trying to come up with a plan on how to apprehend him – they got into a gun fight with Randy, his friend Kevin Harris and Weaver’s 14 year old son Samuel – which resulted in the death of a US Marshall as well as the death of Samuel – the two sides not agreeing on who started shooting first. Thus started a standoff – that would lead to more death.
Watching Ruby Ridge, the overwhelming feeling you get is that the whole incident was senseless – that there were so many moments along the way in which one side or another could have backed off, and prevented the loss of life that happened during the standoff. It is more than possible to think the Federal Government overstepped their bounds – that they entrapped Weaver into committing the crime in the first place, and handled the whole situation poorly once it started, and at the same time think that Weaver made a series of mistakes – based on his paranoid belief system – that at the very least contributed to the death of some of his family members. Whether or not Weaver was a member of the Aryan Nation – he says he wasn’t, he just attended some of their events, and he clearly shared with them a distrust of the Federal Government. When he was arrested for the shotguns, and then the Marshalls showed up on his land, that confirmed every paranoid thing he ever thought about them. He digs in, and refuses to budge.
Like Oklahoma City, Ruby Ridge is a film better suited to those who don’t know anything about what happened – and want a brief recap. The film doesn’t really come at the events from a new angle, or provide a fresh perspective on them. I do wish Goodman would do something deeper on both incidents – as well as Waco, perhaps a third short film on Waco, followed by something that takes a deeper dive into the material. These three incidents remain ones that helped shaped the political landscape in America for decades to come – and are perhaps more relevant now than ever. They deserve more than the surface level approach that Goodman has given them – no matter how effective that surface level is in these two films.