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'Gabby Giffords Won't Back Down' documentary a nuanced tribute to inspirational figure

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Posted at 9:37 AM, Jun 29, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-29 12:47:39-04

TUCSON, Ariz.  — Gabrielle Giffords is as close to a real-life superhero as you'll find. The exquisite documentary "Gabby Giffords Won't Back Down," which is due July 15, tells her story with the grace and passion it deserves.

A survivor of the Jan. 8, 2011 assassination attempt in which a gunman killed six people and injured 15 others near Tucson, the former U.S. Representative survived a gunshot to the head.

She recovered from a medically-induced coma and brain surgery to resume serving in Congress before resigning in January 2012.

It was the end of her political service but the beginning of a lifelong crusade against the national gun violence epidemic.

Along with her husband, Mark Kelly, who was later elected to the U.S. Senate seat Giffords seemed destined for. She formed a group named Giffords, which champions gun safety and promotes gun control legislation.

The documentary is about more than just promoting gun laws, though. It's an inspiring tale of a woman whose indomitable spirit overcame formidable odds to thrive and appreciate a new shot at life. Watching her learn to talk, walk, sing and ride a bike again is a tear-inducing experience.

Directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West break through the carefully curated bubble that Giffords' team has crafted throughout the years, exploring the vulnerability and difficulty of the couple's day-to-day life and some uncomfortable moments from their past.

Orchestrating footage shot by Mark Kelly in the hospital while Giffords was recovering along with family interviews, the directors paint an intimate portrait of a family struggling to overcome an unspeakable tragedy.

While some may attack the film for its overt and subtle political messages — that America would be safer with more gun control laws and that Kelly should retain his Senate seat — politically-based attacks will ignore the masterful storytelling at play.

The film is not always friendly to Kelly, who worked as an astronaut at the time of Giffords' recovery. It presses him on a difficult decision to carry on a space mission during her surgery and hints that lingering regret of choice could still hang over Kelly.

The film also explores Giffords' rough family dynamic when trying to bond with Kelly's children from a previous marriage.

As devastating and uplifting as it could and should be, "Gabby Giffords Won't Back Down" pulses with empathy and pride. It's a beautiful film about a beautiful soul.

RATING: 4 stars out of 4.