Confirmation
HBO // Unrated // $24.98 // August 2, 2016
Review by Tyler Foster | posted August 16, 2016
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A D V I C E
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R E V I E W S
Graphical Version
Confirmation, HBO Films' star-studded telemovie about the 1991 Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas sexual harassment hearings, has a complicated goal: objectivity. In the hands of director Rick Famuyiwa, the movie achieves something more like ambiguity. That's not to say that the movie is bad, but what is meant to be an unbiased look at a tough case that doesn't draw too many conclusions where the hearings couldn't comes off more like an attempt by the filmmakers to have their cake and eat it too.

Kerry Washington plays Hill, a law professor at the University of Oklahoma. Although she watches the news of George Bush appointing Clarence Thomas (Wendell Pierce) as a new Supreme Court judge with a mixture of horror and disgust, she tells a friend she's not interested in bringing a sexual harassment case against him, to avoid upending her life. Unfortunately for Hill, the decision is taken out of her hands when Ricki Seidman (Grace Gummer), a Senate investigator working for Ted Kennedy (Treat Williams) calls her on a lead and ultimately convinces Hill to file testimony not meant for public consumption. Before long, it's in the hands of anyone with the opportunity to vote on Thomas, and then, the top story on national news. The allegations come to a head in a Senate Judiciary hearing lead by Senator Joe Biden (Greg Kinnear), in which Hill reveals the details of her sexual harassment to a stunned nation, while Thomas fires back by labeling Hill's accusations and the possibility he'll lose his chance to become a Supreme Court Justice as the political equivalent of a lynching.

Although Famuyiwa has a screenplay by Susannah Grant that seems to do a decent job of examining both sides of the argument, there are more than a handful of moments where he tips his hand a bit in favor of Hill. When both sides are presenting character witnesses, Hill's are played by dramatic actors, who deliver a scathing rebuttal to Alan Simpson's (Peter McRobbie) obnoxious prodding as to why so many women choose not to speak up. Thomas' witnesses, on the other hand, are shown in archival footage of the real hearings, giving comments that grate on the nerves (invoking Julius Caesar). Famuyiwa also struggles with a satisfying way to make Hill's decision to testify an influential triumph even as she succumbs -- understandably! -- to the immense pressure provided by character assassinations and even retribution against those who choose to stand by her. That's not to say the real Hill's actions weren't understandable, but an observation that the tone of the film tends to shift completely from gloomy to sentimental without much middle ground.

Part of what makes Confirmation an interesting story conceptually is that Hill is not the traditional sort of "inspirational" figure Hollywood likes to make these sorts of movies out of. For most of the movie, she's terrified rather than defiant, having been dragged reluctantly into the public eye by a number of well-meaning people. Washington willingly plays that uncertainty, finding the right build to her compelling and articulate testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Pierce, on the other hand, is deeply passionate about defending his reputation, and therefore has a number of knockout moments, including his own opening salvo before the Committee, in which he makes his memorable claim that the hearing is just another attempt to repress black men in America. It's in this area that Famuyiwa is most effective at injecting the film with a bit of mystery, never attempting to imply or answer whether or not Thomas was guilty of his actions (even if there are probably one too many scenes of him staring off into space, for the audience to graft their own viewpoint onto, as well as onto his wife Ginni, played by Alison Wright). The film's only real villains are McRobbie (who does his best to muddy the waters, seemingly maliciously) and Jack Danforth (Bill Irwin), who seems like he must know that a list of statements he digs up from some of Hill's former students are a scummy bit of hearsay.

Oddly enough, the most interesting character in Confirmation turns out to be Biden, who is presented without the rose-colored glasses many might look at his character with after eight years as Obama's Vice President. Biden is presented as a man who is willing to do the right thing depending on the circumstances, one who may have more moral sympathy than a moral imperative to act. Throughout the film, we see him weighing the political consequences of the various curveballs the case keeps throwing at him, and his responses are not always in the best interests of someone he appears to believe was victimized. In one particularly uncomfortable sequence, he has Hill repeat her account of the abuses she says she suffered during her time working for Thomas, which arguably provides a certain impact for the viewers watching but is clearly a struggle for Hill. In another instance, he is presented with the opportunity to pull a list of Thomas' porn rental habits and declines, more worried about the perception of class and dignity than the elements that generate it, and he stumbles when presented with Angela Wright (Jennifer Hudson), another woman who reports having the same experience with Thomas as Hill did. With the Biden character, Confirmation briefly achieves its goal of open-ended frustration toward the entire process, but it's clear that as a reel of archive footage unspools during the end credits that Confirmtation can't quite resist trying to tie a bow on an issue that continues to impact women across the country in 2016.

The Blu-ray
Confirmation takes the Social Network design route, with cover art featuring a black-and-white photo of Washington and an inspirational tagline superimposed over it. The one-disc release comes in an eco-friendly Blu-ray case, and there is a UltraViolet/iTunes digital copy code inside.

The Video and Audio
Setting aside the copious amount of archive footage included throughout the film, this 1.78:1 1080p AVC-encoded transfer looks pretty good, with plenty of fine detail. Occasionally, the seams show a little bit, especially when techniques are used to treat modern footage to match with the archival stuff, and the film has a somewhat slick appearance that makes it feel like a TV movie rather than a full-fledged theatrical feature, but that's more to do with the photography rather than the disc. Sound is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that gets the job done when it comes to dialogue and includes some nice, well-defined music cues as well. The disc also contains French DTS 5.1 track, a Spanish DTS 2.0 track, English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing, and French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles.

The Extras
The only extras are commercials featuring interview snippets by the cast and crew. Two, "Kerry Washington on the Historical Impact" (1:33) and "Wendell Pierce on the Historical Impact" (1:15) both get at the importance of the case, while the same soundbytes from both are repurposed in a series of Character Spots (13:28), which also include participation from Kinnear, McRobbie, Jeffrey Wright, and several other members of the cast. Many of the male cast members come off surprisingly awkward when it comes to discussing the importance of Hill's case, inadvertently sounding somewhat crass in an attempt to try and express the film's attempt at covering both sides of the debate.

Conclusion
For the most part, Confirmation is a well-made movie, but only occasionally manages to translate its technique into an expression of Famuyiwa's apparent goal. The ending, which feels a little like an overly-positive spin on a case with an ambivalent conclusion, is indicative of the hit-and-miss nature of the entire movie. Lightly recommended.



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