3 1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets (4 stars)

3 1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets

Affecting documentary about the shooting of black teenager Jordan Davis

It's been nearly three years since unarmed black teenager Jordan Davis was fatally shot at a gas station by white software engineer Michael Dunn in Jacksonville, Florida – a city which had, at the time, the highest murder rate in the state. This documentary from writer-director Marc Silver (Who is Dayani Cristal?) gets to the heart of the tragedy that unfolded that night, in a legal episode that came to be known as the 'loud music' case (the shooting happened after Dunn asked Davis and his friends to turn their music down).

Sadder still is the feeling that permeates the whole film: that, in the years since Davis' shooting, many more families have been through the same emotional turmoil. Michael Brown's death in Ferguson last summer might have woken the world up to how callously African-American lives are still regarded, but a cursory look at the number of cases protested by the Black Lives Matter movement in the year since makes clear how depressingly common these stories are.

Despite having a number of parallel cases on which to draw, Silver shows remarkable restraint: 3 ½ Minutes, Ten Bullets looks solely at Dunn's trial for the first-degree murder of Davis, and attempted second-degree murder of the three friends with him. Courtroom footage predominates but it's interspersed with words, thoughts and recollections from Davis' parents and friends, as well as a few recorded phone conversations between Dunn and his fiancée.

The result is an intimate portrait of a life lost too soon at the hands of the seemingly unrepentant – and bewilderingly naive – defendant. But, in addition to telling a personal story, 3 ½ Minutes also makes a genuine attempt to grapple with how self-defence laws in the States work; in this particular case, Florida's 'stand-your-ground' law, which justifies self-defence in the face of a threat or perceived threat, with no duty to retreat. Even for viewers who remember the trial's outcome, Silver makes the legal wranglings over stand-your-ground genuinely compelling and accessible to those unfamiliar with the law.

The film's maudlin soundtrack is a little overused, and it does have a whiff of TV movie in its stylings (after its premiere at Sundance this year, HBO snapped up the US broadcast rights). But – whether it's the killing of African-Americans or the refugee crisis unfolding in our backyard – 3 ½ Minutes is a timely and affecting reminder of what happens when we fail to cherish all human life in equal measure.

Selected release from Fri 2 Oct.

3½ Minutes, Ten Bullets

  • 4 stars
  • 2015
  • US
  • 1h 25min
  • Directed by: Marc Silver

Timely and affecting documentary about the 2012 shooting of black Florida teenager Jordan Davis by white software developer Michael Dunn, known as the 'loud music' case because it started when Dunn told Davis to turn down the music in his car.. Compelling in its examination of American laws regarding self-defence.