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Generally favorable reviews - based on 14 Critics What's this?

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  • Summary: In December 2005, Daniel McGowan was arrested by Federal agents in a nationwide sweep of radical environmentalists involved with the Earth Liberation Front-- a group the FBI has called America’s “number one domestic terrorism threat.” For years, the ELF—operating in separate anonymous cells without any central leadership—had launched spectacular arsons against dozens of businesses they accused of destroying the environment: timber companies, SUV dealerships, wild horse slaughterhouses, and a $12 million ski lodge at Vail, Colorado. With the arrest of Daniel and thirteen others, the government had cracked what was probably the largest ELF cell in America and brought down the group responsible for the
    very first ELF arsons in this country. If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front tells the remarkable story of the rise and fall of this ELF cell, by focusing on the transformation and radicalization of one of its members. Part coming-of-age tale, part cops-and-robbers thriller, the film interweaves a verite chronicle of Daniel on house arrest as he faces life in prison, with a dramatic recounting of the events that led to his involvement with the group. And along the way it asks hard questions about environmentalism, activism, and the way we define terrorism. Drawing from striking archival footage -- much of it never before seen -- and intimate interviews with ELF members, and with the prosecutor and detective who were chasing them, If a Tree Falls explores the tumultuous period from 1995 until early 2001 when environmentalists were clashing with timber companies and law enforcement, and the word “terrorism” had not yet been altered by 9/11. (Oscilloscope Laboratories)
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Score distribution:
  1. Positive: 6 out of 14
  2. Negative: 2 out of 14
  1. Reviewed by: Owen Gleiberman
    Jun 22, 2011
    100
    The film sweeps us up like a thriller, forcing us to at least ask whether terrorism like the ELF's (which targeted property, never human lives) might ever be justified.
  2. Reviewed by: Michael Atkinson
    Jun 21, 2011
    90
    Takes us through reams of fascinating drama, from the first heroic forest-saving protests to the reactive police violence and resulting dead-of-night firebombs to the core group's implosion after the FBI tightens the net.
  3. Reviewed by: Shawn Levy
    Jul 21, 2011
    83
    Never loses sight of the human beings at the heart of the conflict -- no matter what side of the conflict they're on.
  4. Reviewed by: Steve Ramos
    Jun 18, 2011
    60
    Instead of a topic documentary, If a Tree Falls becomes the personal story of a well-intentioned man whose passion for the environment leads to serious consequences.
  5. Reviewed by: Sam Adams
    Jun 21, 2011
    60
    Considering its incendiary subject, Curry's approach is disarmingly tame; perhaps reframing the debate in less volatile terms is some kind of lukewarm triumph.
  6. Reviewed by: Justin Lowe
    Jun 18, 2011
    60
    Curry and co-editor Matthew Hamachek assemble the wide-ranging material into an informative, compelling story line, although details about McGowan's upbringing and early years in the environmental movement slow the narrative down and some of the footage of McGowan puttering around his sister's apartment proves too mundane to hold much interest.
  7. Reviewed by: Kyle Smith
    Jun 24, 2011
    25
    In the appalling documentary If a Tree Falls, a narrator referring to an arson attack by the Earth Liberation Front solemnly intones, "In one night, they had accomplished what years of picketing and writing had never been able to do." Well, yes -- terrorism does make short work of red tape, doesn't it?

See all 14 Critic Reviews

Score distribution:
  1. Positive: 1 out of 1
  2. Mixed: 0 out of 1
  3. Negative: 0 out of 1
  1. j30
    Jan 30, 2012
    8
    A compelling, well told story of one particular ELF member named Daniel McGowan. I don't want to give away too much of the story. It's an inspiring movie that makes you want to take up a cause or change something about your life. Expand