In the documentary The Giant Killer, first-time director and longtime police officer David Yuzuk attempts to memorialize the life of his homeless veteran friend, Richard J. Flaherty who was fatally killed in a hit and run in Miami, Florida.
The documentary starts strong with an intriguing premise. Here we have a 4 foot 9, 95-pound homeless man claiming to be the smallest man ever admitted to the US military.
Flaherty was a Green Beret, and the proud owner of a Silver Star for his bravery fighting in Vietnam and Thailand. Unfortunately, circumstances in his life have left Richard to become homeless.
At first, the film seemed to be capable of touching on issues such as homelessness amongst war veterans, mental illness, maybe even possible homicide tied to the hit and run.
To my utter disappointment, every opportunity Yuzuk had with this documentary to dive deeper into complex issues, he steered the other way.
Through a combination of fictionalized footage, security camera tapes and real time interviews that seem to drag on forever, void of substance, we are led through the life of the late Richard Flaherty.
The film begins by describing Richard’s childhood as the small but popular kid who was nicknamed ‘The Giant Killer’ in his high school yearbook. After writing to a Congressman attempting to try and get into the military any way he could, Richard was finally admitted and excelled at war.
He soon rose to the ranks of first lieutenant in Vietnam, and was described by his war buddies as having a no-mercy, tough demeanor. In short, Richard was a firecracker and not the kind of guy you want to threaten.
For the next 45 minutes of the documentary, we get a choppy, incoherent and rather dull depiction of what life was like during the Vietnam War. It seems that halfway through the film, the director forgot what his point was in making it.
Eventually, we learn that upon his return to the states, Richard became involved in drug dealing, eventually serving some time in prison for selling cocaine in the 80s. Through more scattered interviews with his relatives and others, we learn Richard was later involved in a covert CIA operation that had him training anti-Fidel Cuban rebels.
Again, here lies an opportunity for the director to magnify. Former Green Berets training Cuban rebels and Richard’s role in all this is far more fascinating a story than what we have been led to so far.
This documentary continuously misses the mark and strays away from having any real and solid plot to develop. Richard did live an interesting life, however we don’t actually learn in detail about the small war vet.
Instead, the documentary is victim to poor editing, long dragging interview sessions and a whole lot of instrumental sad music that clashes with the content and dialogue of the film.
It is true that this is Yuzuk’s first time directing. Made by a former police officer and amateur actor, the film is not very professional, but shows potential for improvement.
After all, filmmaking is a collaborative process and a really difficult one at that. And for that, I applaud Yuzuk’s attempt to memorialize his late small friend.
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