Dale Ho in “The Fight” (CREDIT: Magnolia Pictures)

Starring: The ACLU

Directors: Elyse Steinberg, Josh Kriegman, and Eli Despres

Running Time: 96 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Legal Stress

Release Date: July 31, 2020 (Theaters and On Demand)

Documentary feature film productions typically shoot many more hours of footage than they could possibly include in the final product. With that in mind, organization is an incalculably important virtue during the editing process. I always greatly appreciate it when a (non-abstract) documentary concretely guides where my attention should go. Thus, The Fight is the beneficiary of my filmgoing gratitude, as it cleanly divides its narrative into four sections, each covering one lawsuit brought against the federal government with the support of the American Civil Liberties Union in the wake of the election of one Donald J. Trump. The cases and their primary issues are as follows: Garza v. Hargan, abortion rights; Stone v. Trump, transgender military ban; Department of Commerce v. New York, the census citizenship question; and Ms. L. v. ICE, separated families at the border.

In a country as famously litigious as the United States, it makes sense to expect that there would be plenty of legal challenges whenever a new administration takes office. That is exponentially true in the case of Trump, who promised to make any sense of political decorum a permanent thing of the past. As an organization dedicated to protecting legally guaranteed rights, the ACLU set itself in ready-position in 2017. But really, that was already their default status – this historical moment merely amplified that.

As is often the case in these multi-part documentary narratives, one character emerges as the most compelling among the rest. This time, it’s the constantly agitated but charming Dale Ho, who takes the lead in the census case. He finds himself uncomfortably thrust into the moment as he prepares to argue in front of the Supreme Court for the first time in his life. All of the lawyers we meet in The Fight focus on keeping their arguments soundly intellectual, but that cannot stop them from having intense physiological reactions to what they’re stepping into, and that’s especially true in Dale’s case.

The title of this film implies an eternal battle that has been going on before Trump’s election and that will likely continue after he leaves office. There are a few victories here and there, but it is made perfectly clear that they could very well be minor and short-lived in the grand scheme of things. If The Fight has one underlying message that synthesizes everything else it has to say, it is that we must be continuously prepared for these battles. The title could have been “The Struggle,” which is my go-to word for something that requires persistence. But instead we have something that’s just as eternal, but more pugilistic. That feels like the right call. These cases are wading through forces that affect and disrupt wide swaths of society. It’s rough out there, and it’s important to be reminded of that.

The Fight is Recommended If You Like: Recent Left-Leaning Political Documentaries

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Lawsuits