Before Rudy Giuliani seemed on the fast track to sainthood, there was a time — almost reeking of nostalgia at this post-9/11 date — when his autocratic rule over Gotham ruffled more than a few feathers. Veteran cinematographer Kevin Keating remembers those days and makes them fresh again in his first-rate docu “Giuliani Time.” Chock-a-block with incisive commentaries both pro and con, pic’s sole drawback is its quick finish on that fateful September day without updating Rudy’s subsequent rise and fall. Interest will be high in Gotham itself, but yesterday’s news may not play so well in Peoria.
Keating, best known for his lensing on docus by the Maysles brothers and Barbara Kopple, spent more than five years working on “Giuliani Time” but then faced an icy reception from distribs unwilling to handle a critique of the man seen by many as the heroic face of the Big Apple. Now that the Bernie Kerik debacle has given Giuliani another shiner, the time seems ripe for this unflattering appraisal of Rudy’s years in public life.
Investigative biographer and “Village Voice” editor Wayne Barrett acts as Keating’s guide through Giuliani’s well-hidden family past, with its ties to gambling joints, the Mob, and Sing Sing. A brief discussion of the early years leads to Giuliani’s rapid promotion in the D.A.’s office and his controversial role in the deportation of Haitian boat people.
Main chunk of time is spent on Giuliani’s years as mayor, when his zero tolerance policies received worldwide attention and outsiders praised the Disneyfication of Babylon-on-the-Hudson. Through well-chosen commentators ranging from lawyers, community activists and assorted politicos, Keating strips away the self-aggrandizement and analyzes the record, setting into a national context the acclaimed drop in crime and the mayor’s concentration on perceived “quality of life” problems.
Especially damning are discussions of Giuliani’s cold regard for racial issues, highlighted by his polarizing handling of the traumatic Abner Louima and Amadou Diallo cases. Surprisingly, Keating fails to make anything of Giuliani’s orders to surround City Hall with massive concrete barriers, a move that perfectly symbolized his disdain for dissenting opinions. Former mayor Ed Koch pointedly remarks that Giuliani “uses the levers of power to punish.”
All seemed to come crashing to earth in early 2001, when health issues and private scandals saw his influence plummet. But then came 9/11.
Superb use of footage is to be expected from Keating, who made his career working with a pantheon of American docu makers. Tech aspects are flawless — even down to Donald Trump’s credit-worthy makeup.