Under The Radar: Iron Jawed Angels (2004)

Posted: November 14, 2012 in Joe Giambrone
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,


A pure political film about the women’s suffrage movement.  This could be Hillary Swank’s strongest performance of her career.  The film was an HBO TV movie and never released theatrically, although it should have been.

Swank plays Alice Paul, the key person who turned around the women’s movement in the late teens.  Her sacrifices and unyielding determination energized women across the nation and shamed a government into relenting and passing a Constitutional Amendment.  This is an emotionally engaging portrayal of the struggle, where the suffragettes are battered from all directions.  Even the original national women’s union moves to silence Paul and her rabble rousers, causing a split in the movement. 

Hostility grows as America enters the war in Europe.  The idea of protesting a “wartime president” riles up men, the police, and the rest of the government.  They resort to brute force and unconstitutional persecution.  So driven and unwavering, Paul refuses to back down.  Despite incarceration and political repression amounting to torture, she fights to the end to achieve voting rights for all Americans.  This film should be shown in schools as a slice of real history that isn’t much talked about.

Aesthetically, the movie takes a modern turn with a contemporary soundtrack.  Somewhat like A Knight’s Tale used modern music over a Renaissance period story, here the music and the editing techniques remain in our world today while telling the history.  If the tunes were accurate, scratchy, mono recordings of the period it would not have worked as well for modern audiences.  This is a slick, hard political battle that resonates today, and the film’s choices remind us how history doesn’t end.

Iron Jawed Angels on Netflix.


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