Brett Kavanaugh’s 2018 confirmation to the Supreme Court was embroiled in controversy courtesy of multiple women who accused him of sexual assault, led by Christine Blasey Ford, who testified before Congress about the alleged rape she suffered at his hands in high school. Justice is a horrifying and infuriating inquiry into those claims, told in large part by friends of Ford, lawyers and medical experts, and another of Kavanaugh’s alleged victims: Deborah Ramirez, a classmate of his at Yale.
Most damning of all, it features a never-heard-before audio recording made by one of Kavanaugh’s Yale colleagues—Partnership for Public Service president and CEO Max Stier—that not only corroborates Ramirez’s charges, but suggests that Kavanaugh violated another unnamed woman as well.
A last-minute addition to this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Justice is the first feature documentary helmed by Doug Liman, a director best known for Hollywood hits like Swingers, Go, The Bourne Identity, and Edge of Tomorrow. His latest is far removed from those fictional mainstream efforts, caustically censuring Kavanaugh and the political process that elevated him to the nation’s highest judicial bench, and casting a sympathetic eye on Ford, Ramirez ,and their fellow accusers.
Liman’s film may not deliver many new bombshells, but he and writer/producer Amy Herdy makes up for a relative dearth of explosive revelations by lucidly recounting this ugly chapter in recent American history, as well as by giving voice to women whose allegations were picked apart, mocked and, ultimately, ignored.
The biggest eye-opener in Justice comes more than midway through its compact and efficient 85-minute runtime, when Liman receives a tip that leads him to an anonymous individual who provides a tape made by Stier shortly after the FBI—compelled by Ford’s courageous and heartrending testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee—briefly reopened its investigation into embattled then-nominee Kavanaugh.
In it, Stier relays that he lived in the same Yale dorm as Kavanaugh and, one evening, wound up in a room where he saw a severely inebriated Kavanaugh with his pants down, at which point a group of rowdy soccer players forced a drunk female freshman to hold Kavanaugh’s penis. Stier states that he knows this tale “first-hand,” and that the young woman in question did not subsequently remember the incident, nor did she want to come forward after she’d seen the vile treatment that Ford and Ramirez were subjected to by the public, the media, and the government.
Stier goes on to explain that, though he didn’t know Ramirez, he had heard from classmates about her separate, eerily similar encounter with Kavanaugh, which she personally describes in Justice. According to Ramirez, an intoxicated Kavanaugh exposed himself right in front of her face in college, and that she suppressed memories of certain aspects of this trauma until she was contacted by The New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow.
As Ramirez narrates in a trembling tone that seems on the perpetual verge of cracking, she suffered this indignity quietly, convinced that she was to blame for it (because she too was under the influence) and humiliated by the guffaws of the other men in the room. Her account is convincing in its specificity, and moving in its anguish.
Ramirez confesses that some of Farrow’s questions made her worried that she still wasn’t recalling everything about that fateful night, and it’s Stier’s recording that appears to fill in a crucial blank. Stier says he was told that, after Kavanaugh stuck his naked member in Ramirez’s face, he went to the bathroom and was egged on by classmates to make himself erect; once he’d succeeded in that task, he returned to harass Ramirez some more.
It’s an additional bit of nastiness in a story drowning in grotesqueness, and Liman lays it all out with the sort of no-nonsense clarity that only amplifies one’s shock, revulsion and dismay—emotions that go hand-in-hand with outrage, which is stoked by the numerous clips of Kavanaugh refuting these accusations with unconvincing fury and falsehoods.
Through juxtapositions of Kavanaugh’s on-the-record statements and various pieces of evidence, Justice reveals the many lies advanced by the judge in order to both sway public opinion and to give Republicans enough reasonable-doubt cover to vote in favor of his confirmation.
Moreover, in a lengthy segment about text conversations between Kavanaugh’s college buddies and Ramirez’s Yale classmate Kerry Berchem, the film persuasively suggests that Kavanaugh and his team were aware of Ford and Ramirez’s charges before they became public, and sought to preemptively counter them by planting alternate-narrative seeds with friends and acquaintances.
While Liman relies a bit too heavily on graphical text to convey some of this, the idea that Kavanaugh (or those closest to him) conspired to keep his apparent crimes secret—along with his general reputation as a boozing party-hard menace—nonetheless comes through loud and clear.
Surprisingly, although Ford is seen speaking to Liman just off-camera at the beginning of Justice, she otherwise doesn’t appear except in archival footage. Still, her presence is ubiquitous throughout the documentary, which generates further anger by noting that the FBI ignored Stier’s tip, along with the majority of the 4,500 others they received regarding Kavanaugh. The Bureau instead chose to send along any “relevant” reports to the very Trump-administration White House that was committed to getting their nominee approved.
The effect is to paint the entire affair as a charade and a rigged game in which accusatory women were unfairly and maliciously put on the defensive, and powerful men were allowed to skate by on suspect evasions and flimsy denials.
Justice is more of a stinging, straightforward recap than a formally daring non-fiction work, but its direct approach allows its speakers to make their case with precision and passion. Of that group, Ramirez proves the memorable standout, her commentary as thorough and consistent as it is distressed.
In her remarks about Kavanaugh’s laughter as he perpetrated his misconduct—chortling that Ford also mentions to Congress—she provides an unforgettable detail that encapsulates the arrogant, entitled cruelty of her abuser, as well as the unjust system that saw fit to place him on the nation’s highest legal pedestal.