As a slice of wish fulfillment, this reimagining of the way the tragedy of Eric Garner's death could have proceeded is an absolute punch to the gut. By combining non-actors with real people from Garner's life and real news footage with fictional-yet-realistic scenes set in a courtroom, filmmaker Roee Messinger's take on this flash point in the police brutality protest movement becomes something compelling, awful, and impossible to look away from. It's a turn of events that never happened but so many wish had.
Viewers who've never seen the video of Garner's violent arrest will likely find it difficult to watch, but there are other moments of American Trial that are much, much worse. There's a brief video clip of officers and EMT workers trying to resuscitate a downed Garner as he lies unmoving, his eyes shut. And, worst of all, there's the devastating coda that ends American Trial, when Snipes-Garner breaks down in agonized tears after her filmed testimony, having been forced to listen to the details of her husband's death that she'd been able to avoid before. In between, viewers (and the jury) are taken through the basics of the use of force in arrests, the "seatbelt" hold vs. a chokehold, Garner's health problems, and Pantaleo's intent (as channeled by Altieri). This faux trial answers questions that you may not have even known you had. Lest you worry that watching a trial drama will be dry, know that American Trial is anythiung but: It's a painful, powerful, and emotionally resonant documentation of a uniquely American tragedy.