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The U.S. vs. John Lennon | Review

Thorn in the Side

Portrait of Lennon demonstrates how an icon used his voice for much more than song.

For a boy who spent much time in the principle’s office, John Lennon the man was a person with fundamental principles. Though co-directors David Leaf and John Scheinfeld’s documentary isn’t particularly insightful, this timely look back in history suggests that there is a need for such an iconic voice especially in a political climate that eerily reminds us of the current madness in the administration today. Lennon who had fought a long-gestating battle to make New York City his home might just have been the best candidate to become the indoctrinated healer for a wounded post-9/11 populous, and for sure he’d be the first to remind us that this phone/wire tapping thing is nothing new.

When people refer to the Beatles they refer to them in two tenses – the mania and then the revolutionary studio recordings that saw the four members grow individually and thus finally grow apart. The U.S. vs. John Lennon is a documented journey that concentrates more on the Yoko Ono/activism portion of Lennon’s life after the band that gave him the latitude and fortitude to challenge authority only because authority was responsible for an irresponsible war and was a cause for a low point in American history. The doc volleys back and forth between reflections on the past by a slew of talking heads namely activists such as Ron Kovic, Angela Davis, Bobby Seale with popular figures such as Walter Cronkite and Gore Vidal that argue Lennon was up for the good fight even if he was an articulate clown and, a well-edited footage showing Lennon’s association with a political changing of the tide and him catapulting himself into many human rights manifestations and anti-War propaganda platforms.

There are no dumbstruck admissions to be found here, but Yoko Ono’s speaks candidly about John, and somewhere in her remarks she’ll remind Beatles fans and old hippies that there was a larger than life humanity inside this person who was always going to be the abandoned boy from a working class background. Interesting factoids for those viewers who might have never experienced vinyl might find linkage to how songs like ‘Give Peace a Chance’, ‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over)’ and ‘Imagine’ were particualiry significant for their time. The cardboard cutouts of images sort of like what made The Kid Stays in the Picture such a pleasing watch is a technique that gives zest to the many portions of narration.

The archival footage showing Lennon using the media as a platform is the spark of the doc, unfortunately as a history lesson The U.S. vs. John Lennon turns over no new stones or makes no fervent commentary. Some will find this is to be a nice nostalgic trip and or a sufficient exploration of Lennon – but it is no accident that Lionsgate saw the pertinence in how Iraq is beginning to look a whole like the next Vietnam.

Rating 2.5 stars

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Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist and critic at (founded in 2000). Eric is a regular at Sundance, Cannes and TIFF. He has a BFA in Film Studies at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013 he served as a Narrative Competition Jury Member at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson's This Teacher (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022 he served as a New Flesh Comp for Best First Feature at the 2022 Fantasia Intl. Film Festival. Current top films for 2022 include Tár (Todd Field), All That Breathes (Shaunak Sen), Aftersun (Charlotte Wells).

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