RBG begins with an audio montage of a horde of hard-right conservative commentators talking about a woman who, in their minds, is un-American and is on her way to destroy the nation. This montage is played over statues of founding fathers and other American monuments founds across Washington DC. The woman they're so scornful and afraid of is a tiny little octogenarian with a kind and quiet voice, yet a force to be reckoned with when it comes to fighting for equal rights of all Americans. Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's life is a stirring and powerful reminder that progress for the marginalized takes tenacity and an inexhaustible fighting spirit. That's why this pre-credits opening is perfect: There will always be those fighting tooth and nail to crush progress, but the promise of the American system allows those without power to fight back. Just don't expect the battle to be a cakewalk.
Ever since her early days at law school, Ginsburg was aware of this fact, and paved her way through rampant sexism in order to garner the respect that she deserved. She then took on one case after the other in order to tackle various gender discrimination issues at a time when no one was brave enough to go against a system that clearly favored one sex over the other, as well as one race over the others. She eventually made it as a judge in the highest court of the land, earning the nickname Notorious RBG because of her fearless stance against oppression and discrimination. Make no mistake, this is a love letter to this beloved figure, a tribute that highlight her many accomplishments, a feel-good affirmation of this country's potential for greatness despite its many setbacks and failures of justice, a documentary for the already-converted.
However, directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West's film is exceptionally good at everything I just laid out. The directors employ a fairly linear and episodic structure as they bring about Ginsburg's biography, tackling the importance of cases that made her career one-by-one, intercut with glowing talking head interviews that hammer home how essential she was in advancing gender equality, with occasional references to her personal life and her recent pop culture emergence for levity. This is pretty standard biographical retrospective stuff. It doesn't offer anything original as far as the technical art of documentary filmmaking is concerned, but offers a well-paced and comprehensive portrait of one of the most important figures in American history.
I wish we were given a Blu-ray copy, but the DVD is perfectly satisfactory when it comes to contemporary interviews and old video footage. It's when it comes to old black-and-white film footage when we get some clear pixellation and the SD quality shows its cracks. DVD upscaling always works best with digital HD footage, and since RBG is not necessarily a gorgeous cinematic experience, you should be totally fine with the DVD.
We get a lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 track. RBG is perfect viewing through regular TV speakers, since the surround mix only briefly comes into play when the occasional music comes on. Otherwise, the talk-heavy mix is fairly central.
Deleted Scenes: Seven extra minutes of RBG working out and rehearsing a play she was a part of.
Additional Interviews: Almost thirty minutes of interview footage cut from the film.
We also get a Trailer.
Love her or hate her, RBG probably won't change your mind about this physically small but socially towering figure, yet it certainly gives a more complete picture about how she got where she is and how much she had to sacrifice for justice. RBG is highly recommended for anyone who has recently lost hope in the promise of America.