Waco: The Rules of Engagement (1997)

This one's playing in Durham, at the Carolina, and, if you have a 
strong stomach, I highly recommend a look-see.  Director William 
Gazecki's Academy Award-nominated documentary is, by turns, fasci- 
nating, frightening, and, finally, horrifying, as the filmmaker
methodically sifts through the events of April 14, 1993, when 76 
Branch Davidians (men, women, and children) died at the end of a 
51-day stand-off.  Though he catches the participating agencies 
(ATF and FBI) in lie after lie after lie, the focus of Gazecki's 
film seems more about the law enforcement operation itself, which, 
from the get-go, was a cluster fuck of near-colossal proportions.  
(Poor tactical choices ranged from a press leak the night before 
the raid-- a news van arrived before the agents did!-- to the post-
fire failure of the FBI to properly-- or, it would seem, even cas-
ually-- secure the crime scene.)

Intercutting footage of the congressional hearings that followed, 
Gazecki chronicles quite a bit of after-the-fact ass-covering.  He 
keeps the tone in check, though, never hammering too hard on either
side.  The government takes their blows, but not to the point of 
appearing as either buffoons or brazen conspirators.  David Koresh, 
on the other hand, comes out smelling a bit sweeter than he prob-
ably should.  And, with the exception of a colorful (but brief) 
appearance by a KKK spokesman, the reactions of the "radical right" 
are largely ignored.  Mercifully, there's a little humor and a bit 
of local color to lighten the load.  Lots of (maybe too many) talk-
ing heads, too, to accompanying the grim (and, at times, grisly) 
footage of the FBI's tactics.  (They tried everything, from the 
amplified sounds of small animals being killed to punching holes in 
the buildings with tanks.)  With its unforgettable autopsy photos 
(and a scary appearance by weird-lookin' Webb Hubbell), the final 
hour is the heaviest.  And, yet, the documentary ends on a note 
that's more sad than outraged.  Perhaps the most staggering asser-
tion in this film is that there's a whole lot of blame to go around 
and a not single entity, agency, or policy to pin it on.  (Rated 
"R"/135 min.)

Grade: A-

Copyright 1998 Michael J. Legeros
Movie Hell is a trademark of Michael J. Legeros

Originally posted to triangle.movies in MOVIE HELL: April 12, 1998

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