William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe (2009) - Rotten Tomatoes

William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe (2009)

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Critic Consensus: It doesn't even feign impartiality, but this family-made documentary about the famously rabble-rousing attorney shines a light on the life and times of a divisive public figure.

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During the second half of the 20th century, William Kunstler was one of the most admired attorneys in America -- and one of the most hated. Kunstler was a man who thrived on controversial cases; in the 1960s, he specialized in defending clients who ran afoul of the law on civil rights and free speech issues, and he spoke on behalf of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Lenny Bruce, members of the Black Panther Party, Native American activists, and prisoner's rights groups. Kunstler found himself in the national media spotlight in 1969 when he defended "the Chicago Eight," activists who were accused of organizing riots during the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention; his flamboyant style in the courtroom fascinated the press, and some believe he soon became as interested in getting his name in the papers and his face on television as he was in the law. In his later years, Kunstler developed a reputation as a man who would defend clients no one else would touch, including drug dealers, accused rapists, organized crime figures, and suspected terrorists, though he remained a passionate advocate of the American legal system. Kunstler's daughters, Emily and Sarah, began asking their famous dad questions about his career and his ideals as children armed with a home movie camera, and they've used some of that footage -- along with vintage newsreels and interviews with Kunstler's friends, foes, and clients -- as the basis for the film William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe, a biographical portrait of the man and his legacy. William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe received its world premiere at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.

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Critic Reviews for William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe

All Critics (28) | Top Critics (13)

Like the recent animated documentary Chicago Ten, this is a timely reminder of a era when "change" was more than just a campaign slogan. But it's also a personal portrait, with shadings.

January 20, 2010
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Top Critic

William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe offers a deeply personal view of a larger-than-life figure. It's a view filtered through a prism of memory and emotion, but one well worth investigating.

Full Review… | December 10, 2009
Philadelphia Inquirer
Top Critic

Leading the defense in the 1969-70 trial of the Chicago Seven, William Kunstler became a radical and a celebrity, and this vivid documentary captures how those two facets of his life worked together in morally urgent and contradictory ways.

Full Review… | December 2, 2009
Entertainment Weekly
Top Critic

Terrific archival footage from a range of seminal civil rights events, as well as affecting narration written by Sarah Kunstler and spoken by Emily Kunstler (who also edited the film), round out this superior documentary.

Full Review… | November 20, 2009
Los Angeles Times
Top Critic

The film's point is clear. And for those looking for a straight answer, it's this: The bravest lawyer isn't the one who takes on the clients that allow him to feel good about himself. It's the one who takes on the clients that give us nightmares.

Full Review… | November 20, 2009
Washington Post
Top Critic

Kunstler's accomplishments, principles and courage are all here in Disturbing the Universe. But there is something else that adds an unexpected layer of emotional complexity.

November 19, 2009
Seattle Times
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe

Normally, I hesitate whenever there is a documentary about a notable figure by family members, due to their general lack of perspective on the subject.(I'm thinking especially about a disappointing documentary about cinematographer Haskell Wexler.) In the case of "William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe," Kunstler's daughters by his second marriage, Emily and Sarah, actually manage to add perspective to the life of this (in)famous lawyer who was especially interested in seeing that everybody in the court system received representation, no matter what they were accused of. With the assistance of revealing material including home movies and personal reminisces that recall his life from civil rights lawyer to radicalization and beyond, Sarah and Emily Kunstler provide new insights on such already familiar territory like Chicago 8, Attica and the siege at Wounded Knee. For example they talk to one of the jurors on the Chicago 8 trial jury who was also radicalized by the experience. Along with some interviews with notables, this altogether reveals a complex portrait of a complicated man.

Walter M.
Walter M.

Super Reviewer

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nyPjMva8u9I update: see the trailer and possible the entire doc on-line. A truely remarkable documentary film. Unless you lived the time this fellow lived through, you can not possibly know the hardship, the unreal odds that were stacked against this lawyer. If there ever was a David and Goliath, this was David. A documentary film about the late American civil rights attorney William Kunstler directed by daughters Emily Kunstler and Sarah Kunstler that premiered at the 25th Sundance Film Festival in January 2009. William Kunstler was a famous 20th-century lawyer whose clients included Martin Luther King Jr., Larry Davis, Malcolm X, Phillip and Daniel Berrigan, Abbie Hoffman, H. Rap Brown, Stokely Carmichael, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., Filiberto Ojeda Ríos and Leonard Peltier. The New York Times called him "the most hated and most loved lawyer in America". Filmmakers and daughters of the subject, Emily Kunstler and Sarah Kunstler explore their father's life, from middle-class family man, to movement lawyer, to "the most hated lawyer in America." NOTES about the film: 1 The film has generally received favorable reviews from critics. The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 79% of critics gave the film a positive review, based on 28 reviews. 2 Stephen Holden of the New York Times described the film as a "refresher course on the history of American left-wing politics in the 1960s and '70s as well as an affectionate personal biography of Kunstler." 3 In 2009, the film was nominated for the Documentary Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. Directed by Emily Kunstler Sarah Kunstler Produced by Emily Kunstler Sarah Kunstler Jesse Moss Susi Korda Vanessa Hope Written by Sarah Kunstler Music by Shahzad Ismaily Cinematography [Brett Wiley, Martina Radwan] Editing by Emily Kunstler Distributed by Arthouse Films Release date(s) Fall, 2009 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nyPjMva8u9I for the trailer. Also, you MAY be able to see the entire doc if you google search : william kunstler

monsieur rick
monsieur rick

Rare documentary by the children of the subject that seemingly pulls no punches. The walk thru memory lane of the radical movements of the sixties and 70s, when Kunstler was everywhere, gave way to an embrace of all underdogs, not just those with a political bent, giving pause to his two daughters. This is a complex personality and well worth consideration.

Nick Demartino
Nick Demartino

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