“Why Oklahoma City? It’s a quiet place. Nothing happens here.”
On April 19, 1995, a truck-bomb explosion outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City sent shockwaves across the country. Killing 168 people and injuring hundreds more, Timothy McVeigh’s act of domestic terrorism controlled the headlines for months; however, the rooted hatred that lead to the incident began decades before.
Though Barak Goodman’s Oklahoma City begins and ends with the haunting explosion and manhunt that ensued, the film’s title is a bit misleading - in a good way. Split into “chapters” audiences are taken through the rather explosive and complex history of the white supremacy/anti-government movement, chronicling its creation and growth as it recruited strong persons who were willing to sacrifice their life for their cause.
Beginning with the Aryan Nations, Goodman delicately navigates the rough terrain, taking time to explain stances and offer up heritage and origins for how more than six decades of events lead to the horrific explosion in 1995. Fully grasping the who, how, what and why, Oklahoma City refuses to preach as it eloquently presents a series of events, generating a timeline that helps to paint a large picture.
Within the film we are presented with information regarding Bob Matthews, The Order, and the Turner Diaries. Discovering about each as we begin to formulate a thorough knowledge that helps us to better understand the incident in Oklahoma as Goodman attempts to better explain McVeigh and his mindset leading up to his horrific action.
The most influential moment for McVeigh was the standoff at the Brand Davidian compound just outside of Waco, Texas. Goodman spends a heavy amount of time covering McVeigh’s stint in Central Texas, dissecting his viewpoint and working to better understand the link between the two events. While some will feel this section is a bit overdone, it is important to realize the correlation that exists.
During the film’s third act Goodman fluidly transitions from the events in Waco to that of Oklahoma City, giving us a full scope of McVeigh, his history in the army and his introduction to the Turner Diaries, The Order and Waco. It is here that the film begins to play like a highly prolific 20/20 special, forgoing the broad brush and digging into the details as we learn about McVeigh’s insecurities, his time in the military and his struggles to adapt upon his return home. Seamlessly blending archived footage, court evidence and new interviews, we get the full scope of the story, including the manhunt that took place after the Ryder truck exploded.
Goodman succeeds on many levels; however, Oklahoma City is not perfect. While unbiased and highly informative, the film occasionally gets bogged down in facts, loosing track of its audience as it sacrificing entertainment for information. While this isn’t a terrible thing, it does allow your mind to wander during certain portions. The film also focuses heavily on the deadly blast, but skims over the patriotism that came as a result. The explosion is an important piece; however, the unified retaliation is just as crucial.
That being said I do respect Goodman for not shying away from the uncomfortable realities that came with the arrest (and conviction) of McVeigh. One of the most powerful moments of the film comes when an interviewed expert reminisced at the horror of realizing that the man behind the bombing was “one of us”. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but Goodman’s insistence that it be swallowed helps to propel Oklahoma City to new heights.