Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992 Movie Poster Image
Wrenching, must-see docu probes racial violence in LA.
  • NR
  • 2017
  • 140 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

There are times when people are given the opportunity to act despicably or nobly, to be heroes or perpetrators; often the best choice is also the hardest. This film has plenty of examples of all of these. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Features extensive interviews with people who were involved in the 1992 riots; it's easy to find empathy and sympathy for many of them as they explain what they did and how they made very difficult decisions. Viewers get to know them as people before learning whether their actions made them heroes or villains, which deftly shows that deep down, people are people. 


The film centers on a landmark episode of police brutality and how it set off one of the worst riots in U.S. history; plenty of real-life violence is featured. Footage shows people being attacked (by both cops and by civilians) via police batons, Tasers, rocks, mace, and more. Also many images of bloody victims, both dead and alive.


Swearing isn't constant but includes "ass," "s--t," and variants of "f--k." Historical footage shows people waving their middle fingers in outrage. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A portion of the film discusses the rampant use of crack cocaine during the 1980s. Some sequences also include policemen talking about the effects of PCP. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992 is a passionate, important documentary about the 1992 Rodney King riots in Los Angeles, six days of chaos -- triggered by an heinous act of police brutality -- that left more than 50 people dead. Using interviews with people who were there and plenty of historical footage, the filmmakers deftly paint a picture of race relations in Southern California in the 1980s and early 1990s. Expect many disturbing images of people being beaten, sometimes quite badly, as well as dead, bloody bodies. It's tough to see some of it, but it's still must-see viewing. There's also some swearing, notably "f--k" and "s--t," as well as references to crack use and PCP.

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What's the story?

The Rodney King riots in Los Angeles in 1992 shocked the nation, but for anyone paying attention to race relations in Southern California, they shouldn't have come as a surprise. LET IT FALL: LOS ANGELES 1982-1992 documents the riots' six days of violence, which were triggered by the acquittal of four police officers on trial for brutally beating King the year before -- an attack that probably would gone unnoticed if it hadn't been caught on videotape. Director John Ridley covers the wrenching days of strife, then goes back years to explain the increased militarization of the Los Angeles Police Department, as well as institutional tolerance of racism within the department and increasing racial conflict in a city facing growing gang violence and the crack epidemic. Historical footage is mixed with interviews of police-brutality victims, veteran cops, political figures, community leaders, and other experts. It all comes together to show that, over the course of the late '80s and early '90s, Los Angeles had become a volatile powder keg -- and the King incident was the spark that set it off. 

Is it any good?

Even though the main events took place 25 years ago, the film feels distressingly current, with its focus on race relations and police brutality. Ridley goes to great lengths to connect the dots from 1982 to 1992, showing the rage that was bubbling just under the surface in Los Angeles and why it finally had to explode. The movie is long, well over two hours, but there's lots of ground to cover, and it never feels tiresome. Instead, it's heartbreaking. The film is anchored by detailed, often emotional interviews with people who were there, as well those who lost loved ones during the riots or other incidents that led up to them. The amazing trick of Let It Fall is the way everyone has a way to explain why they made certain decisions -- in hindsight, some of them were clearly the wrong call, but giving the interviewees enough time on camera humanizes them. You can see what they were thinking at the time, which is part of why the film is still, sadly, so relevant today.

Let It Fall doesn't address the current landscape. It doesn't have to, because so many of the issues it explores in depth are just as relevant today. The film details how the 1992 riots can be traced to incidents from a decade earlier. Now, more than two decades later, it's clear that the same issues are still at play. And, years from now, this amazing movie will probably still be useful to see how issues that are ignored can fester for a long time until they eventually, inevitably erupt.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the subject matter of Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992. How are the events shown here similar to and different from related cases/incidents/reactions in today's news?

  • Who are the villains here? Did you find it easier to understand why some people made their choices -- even the ones you disagreed with -- once you heard their stories? Why is it important to consider multiple viewpoints when approaching complicated topics?

  • How did the movie's scenes of violence affect you? Did they have more or less impact than what you might seen in an action movie? Why do you think that is?

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