The horror is so bad you wish you were watching something scripted, something directed. But you’re not; you’re watching reality play out in gory detail. A man is dragged from his truck and beaten within an inch of his life. Another body lies on the pavement, bloodied, broken, and motionless. A man walks over to the corpse and spray-paints it black. Fires burn in the background, people scream for the police and fire department to help, but help isn’t on the way. As far as they are concerned, South Central Los Angeles is a lost cause.
Though most moviegoers are familiar with the 1992 LA riots — they recently played integral roles in both the feature Straight Outta Compton and the documentary O.J.: Made in America — they are often reduced to a simple example of civil unrest; the moment when racial tension in L.A. finally tipped. That’s true, but there is much more to this story and documentarians Daniel Lindsay and T. J. Martin unearth a story as dramatic, profound, and chilling as anything in theaters this summer.
LA 92, which was made for the National Geographic Channel, is constructed entirely from archival footage to tell the story of Rodney King, a man who was mercilessly beaten by Los Angeles police officers Stacey Koon, Laurence Powell, Timothy Wind, Theodore Briseno, and Rolando Solano, all of whom walked free. Of Latasha Harlins, a 15-year-old who was shot to death by a Korean storeowner, Soon Ja Du, who also walked free. And of the August 1965 Watts riots, which Lindsay and Martin eerily frame as the harbinger of the ’92 riots.
Adroitly constructed — thanks in no small part to Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans outstanding score — LA 92 is a stunning piece of work, one that skillfully finds the thread of history and holds on tight. This is an unfinished horror film, one that continues what Watts started. The conclusion has yet to be written.