“Justice,” a documentary that delves into sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, was secretly in the works for more than a year before it was added as a late-breaking addition to the 2023 Sundance Film Festival lineup.
Doug Liman (“Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” “The Bourne Identity”) directed the film, which premiered on Friday to a full house at Park City’s Park Avenue Theatre. Like many Americans, he vividly remembers watching Christine Blasey Ford, who accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were high schoolers in the early ’80s, testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2018. Three additional women later accused Kavanaugh of misconduct (all of which he’s denied). An FBI investigation found “no corroboration of the allegations,” and Kavanaugh was eventually confirmed to a lifetime term on the highest court in the country.
During a Q&A after the screening, Liman described a sense of outrage while watching Blasey Ford’s testimony, “knowing something very wrong was happening.”
Liman believes “the FBI investigation into Brett Kavanaugh fell woefully short,” he explained in a statement. “The film examines our judicial process and the institutions behind it, highlighting bureaucratic missteps and political powergrabs that continue to have an outsized impact on our nation today.”
Though the documentary opens on Blasey Ford, Kavanaugh’s most famous accuser, she mostly appears through clips of TV coverage of the hearing. In addition to interviews with psychologists and journalists, a primary focus of “Justice” centers on Kavanaugh’s former Yale classmate Deborah Ramirez. She alleged that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her and forced himself onto her at a dorm party in the early 1980s. Like Blasey Ford in her tearful testimony, Ramirez remembered laughter as a prominent memory in the alleged incident.
Liman praised the individuals who chose to speak out in the film.
“This was the kind of movie where people are terrified,” he said. “I mean, the fact is the people that chose to participate in the movie are heroes.”
“Justice” lays bare the process of Kavanaugh’s 2018 Supreme Court appointment but stops short of offering explosive revelations. One of the biggest reveals in the documentary alleges the FBI failed to thoroughly reach out to the 4,500 people who sent in tips about the allegations in Kavanaugh’s formal investigation.
One of those unexplored accounts came from Max Stier, a former Yale classmate and current attorney and bipartisan lobbyist. In a recorded conversation, Stier — who didn’t appear in the film — seemed to back Ramirez’s account while also implying the situation at a “drunken dorm party” may have been worse than she recounted.
Stier’s recording “was made during the week the FBI asked people to submit tips,” Liman said. “Material like that was shielded and sent to the White House and never pursued. For me, that was the most shocking. I really believe when the FBI was conducting an investigation and setting up a tip portal and 4,500 people went through the effort to submit tips — and we have 4,500 of them… Those tips went to the White House into the garbage can.”
Liman admits he doesn’t know the kind of recourse he expects to follow the film’s premiere. “For me, I feel like the job ends with the film and what happens after is beyond my control,” he said. “My thinking hasn’t gone beyond the film.”
Amy Herdy, a producer on the film, pushed back on Liman’s response, saying she respectfully disagreed. “I do hope this triggers outrage and action,” she said. “I hope it triggers an actual investigation with real subpoena powers.”
In the meantime, Herdy and Liman said since the top-secret documentary was announced, they’ve received more tips from people who claimed to have similar stories to share. They plan to continue investigating the story.
“I thought the film was done but it looks like… we’re not going home,” Liman said. “The team is staying on it.”