‘John Lewis: Good Trouble’ Review: Past Progress, and More to Come

The civil rights leader and longtime Georgia congressman John Lewis surely requires no introduction, but “John Lewis: Good Trouble,” a documentary from Dawn Porter, provides a solid one anyway, striking a good balance between revisiting Lewis’s most famous work as an activist and chronicling his life today.

Porter shows Lewis campaigning for Democratic candidates throughout the 2018 election cycle and takes us through a tick-tock of a recent day, even as she interweaves footage of episodes from his storied career. Lewis recalls becoming immersed in the philosophy of nonviolence in Nashville, where he and others fought segregation. The film shows him speaking at the March on Washington. Lewis shares a memory of being physically struck while marching in Selma, Ala.

Current and former colleagues — including Elijah Cummings, who died in October and to whom the film is dedicated — line up to praise him. Discussing an incident in which Lewis, as one of the Freedom Riders, was beaten bloody in Rock Hill, S.C., the House majority whip, James E. Clyburn, says he has often wondered what might have happened if he had been there, because he was never as tenaciously nonviolent as Lewis was. The documentary is only occasionally less than adulatory, as when recalling Lewis’s race for Congress in 1986 against his friend and fellow activist Julian Bond.

Although the film uses a conventional format, it makes an urgent argument: that a new wave of voter suppression has threatened the rights that Lewis labored to secure. That context gives older footage — of Lewis and Bond encouraging voter registration in 1971 in Mississippi, for instance — a renewed power.

John Lewis: Good Trouble

Rated PG. Racial slurs. Running time: 1 hour 36 minutes. Rent or buy on iTunes, FandangoNOWGoogle Play and other streaming platforms and pay TV operators.

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