|'Gibney rarely gets in the way of his subjects, he provides context and new information in the right order and ratio, his editing is impeccable, when he tries something relatively new it never seems to fail'|
Alex Gibney could probably make me interested in a documentary about the murky world of novelty toilet seats. The director has one of the most unfettered ways of presenting interesting material currently available in the mainstream Documentary space. He rarely gets in the way of his subjects, he provides context and new information in the right order and ratio, his editing is impeccable, when he tries something relatively new it never seems to fail to a degree that brings down his whole film.
In Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence In The House Of God, Gibney's 'new' things involve using known actors to provide the voiceovers for his subjects; four deaf American men who pursued an abuse claim against the US Catholic church, the first such claim of its kind. The experiment works. Jamey Sheridan, Chris Cooper, Ethan Hawke and John Slattery provide weighty aural narrative for Terry, Pat, Gary and Arthur. Slattery and Cooper, in particular, manage to get across a connection with their partner which goes beyond performance. This is something different and, for the most part, you can tell.
The rest of Mea Maxima Culpa, specifically the final act, is let down by unfortunate timing. Gibney finishes at a point just before the resignation of Joseph Ratzinger, something which inherently feeds into the revelations of his last twenty minutes. To not have that available to view now feels like an omission, even though, at the time, Gibney had no choice. You wonder if, after the law suits and internal investigations have finished, there might be scope for a Mea Maxima Redux in some years time.
Similarly, other areas of the film don't quite work as well as we might expect from a documentary maker as good as Gibney. His financial analysis, honed early on in his career, is again fascinating here. Gibney knows that root of the problem must come back to money and thus, as his film sees it, so it does. But this equation, particularly with such emotive subject matter, can sometimes feel cold. There is balance here, but he does risk reducing the suffering of his subjects to a point of bureaucracy (that the Church is not a Church at all but a State, with different rules and governance). Reconstruction too, though infrequent, is a Documentary tool that should have been consigned to the bin long ago.
It's telling that, even with those fairly major concerns, this is still a watchable, important Documentary, from a film-maker who rarely disappoints.
Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence In The House Of God was playing on Netflix.