‘Not Going Quietly’ Review: Into the Long Fight

In 2016, Ady Barkan was working as an advocate for economic justice when he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or A.L.S., a neurological disease that deteriorates motor function. Doctors told him he had only three or four years to live. The documentary “Not Going Quietly” begins shortly after this grim diagnosis, as Ady embarks on a new political campaign, this time focused on public health policy.

In the film, Ady leaves the comfort of home and family to travel across the United States on a speaking tour as part of his “Be a Hero” campaign. He leads rallies in Congressional districts where politicians support what Ady deems inhumane health policies. In Washington, his push for health care access leads Ady to protest Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court appointment. Through this fight, his illness progresses, limiting his ability to move and speak.

The most intriguing scenes in the documentary are focused on the mechanics of Ady’s activism. The director Nicholas Bruckman captures Ady and a team of organizers as they host a training for demonstrators who intend to film themselves disrupting politicians during routine campaign stops with questions about health care. This training represents one of the few occasions that Bruckman treats Ady’s success as a result of organizing, rather than a feat achieved through sheer force of personality.

Ady’s vitality has been central to his accomplishments. But Bruckman elides the significant amount of planning that it has taken for Ady and his team to build a national movement. This lack of practical detail means this documentary plays as a human-interest story, built from predictable beats of adversity and triumph. It is a warm and generous portrait, but the film lacks its central organizer’s propulsive shrewdness.

Not Going Quietly
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 36 minutes. In theaters.

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