Review: The Sixth — Movies for the Rest of Us with Bill Newcott

Two Oscar-winning documentarians provide a grueling account of the events of January 6, 2021.

The Sixth (© Sean Fine)

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The Sixth

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Run Time: 1 hour 46 minutes


Writer: Andrea Nix

Directors: Sean Fine, Andrea Nix

Streaming as Video on Demand


“Sometimes, the truth is like a second chance,” says Congressman Jamie Raskin in The Sixth, a thoughtful, unexpectedly measured documentary about the January 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol building.

The footage surrounding Raskin’s interview is at times harrowing. Here, though, the setting is positively peaceful. Raskin, reflective and measured, stands in what appears to be a congressional hearing room; a cavernous, silent space. He faces the camera, half-lit, calmly walking us through his recollections of the day he found himself hiding in a U.S. Capitol building office, concerned for his own safety but mostly worried sick about his daughter Tabitha, hunkered down somewhere else in that same building.

Nearly four years have passed since that day, yet Raskin’s eyes still betray a ghost of panic as he recalls those moments when the nation’s legislators — Republican, Democrat and independent — along with their staffs and families, cowered in hiding from a largely disorganized army of screaming, chanting men and women.

Today, we know that after reaching a high-water mark in the House of Representatives chamber, the protestors, their fury largely spent, filtered away into the late afternoon dusk. For those tense hours, though, no one on either side knew exactly what would happen.

Everyone thinks they know the story of January 6. But really, that knowledge is largely limited to the 15-second clips that have burned themselves into the collective memory.

Those moments are all here in this grueling account from Oscar-winning documentarians Sean Fine and Andrea Nix: The protestors scrambling like spiders up the marble walls…the human battering ram in the entrance tunnel…the screaming D.C. Metro police officer being crushed into a door frame…the flag-waving protestors streaming through the Capitol’s halls, some like bemused tourists, others like marauding vandals.

We’ve even heard the stories of those who defended the Capitol or hid that day, but usually they’ve been goaded on by TV hosts impatient to get to the good stuff before the next commercial break. Seldom have they been invited to look into the camera’s eye, take a deep breath, and start from the beginning.

That is the gift of The Sixth, a graphic yet strikingly humane narrative. Lots of January 6 documentaries make use of raw footage to recreate the chaos and violence of the day. Fine and Nix take unprecedented pains to not only place us in the middle of the melee — scrupulously informing us, through ingeniously designed animated diagrams, precisely where we are in and around the Capitol — but also behind those locked, barricaded doors, where staffers gaze tremblingly through the windows, watching an approaching swarm of enraged humanity.

But first, there’s eerily tranquil early-morning footage of cheerful protestors heading toward the Ellipse behind the White House. Aerial shots reveal the sheer mass of humanity that stretches all the way to the Washington Monument — tens of thousands were expected, but an estimated 120,000 actually showed up. Even as the politicians’ speeches continue from the Ellipse podium, a smaller group of protestors in riot and military gear begins to make its way toward the Capitol building. Footage from their informal march fairly smokes with fury.

Besides Raskin, the film introduces us to a gallery of narrators: celebrated photographer Mel D. Cole, who snapped pictures and shot video unceasingly as the tide of protestors carried him to the Capitol steps; Metropolitan Police officer Christina Laury, who took a face full of bear spray while encountering demonstrators outside the Capitol; officer Daniel Hodges, the man we’ve all seen being crushed in that doorway; and Erica Loewe, communications director for Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC), who watched with mounting dread as the protestors broke down police lines outside her window.

It’s easy to relate to that group’s memories of fear and anger; where The Sixth falls short is in offering much insight into the minds of those storming the gates. There are glimpses of humanity in the swarm, thanks to the remarkable photos of Cole, who captures protestors tending to injured compatriots, and a brief shot of one protestor, tears pouring down his face, pleading with his compatriots to stop the violence.

“We’re better than this!” he screams.

And there is one brief, compelling interview outside the Capitol: Cole turns his video camera to a young woman in a ball cap and a blue bandana.

“I’m prepared to die,” she says, with an incongruous smile on her face. “Yes, I’m prepared to die for my country and my children and my grandchildren.”

The woman looks an awful lot like Ashli Babbit, the protestor who was shot and killed inside the Capitol while climbing through a broken window to the Speaker’s Lobby. Call her a patriot, or call her a deluded pawn: She knows what she’s doing, and nothing is going to stop her.

Beyond that, just about all we see of the attackers are faces twisted with hatred; bodies lunging in violence; formations pushing forward with awful precision. The filmmakers could have devoted a minute or two to the undeniable fact that, away from the raging war at the main entrances, security cameras showed some protestors being allowed free entry to the Capitol through side doors. Why did that happen? Were those officers who stood by just overwhelmed? Were they angry that they’d been placed on the front line without any protective gear? Or were they, as some protestors claimed, complicit? The good-guys-versus-bad-guys narrative playing out elsewhere that day is low-hanging fruit; The Sixth should have taken up the challenge of exploring something a bit more complicated.

Granted, it’s understandable that neither the narrators nor the filmmakers are willing to absolve the January 6 mob of responsibility for an act that left more than 100 police injured, many of them gravely. But even Marvel movie villains are given backstories. As an American, I want to understand what perceived truth, what level of irresistible angst, drove thousands of my countrymen to embark on a paramilitary expedition against their own government — a cause that they had to know, if they’d thought about it for five seconds, was ultimately doomed.

I could have used an opportunity for one or two of those tortured souls to look into the camera’s eye, take a deep breath, and start from the beginning.

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  1. After watching the hearings for months, nothing really has happened concerning the word insurrection. The word insurrection became the word riot. Jamie Raskin, a smug elite from a blue state in New England should be the last person to present his point of view. The committee was very partisan with 2 Republications who were not relected and are now employed by the biased MSNBC OR CNN. The DOJ has done very little in prosecuting but a small number of the rioters.

  2. Of course, it wasn’t “an insurrection,” and there was nothing “paramilitary” about it. An insurrection is a well planned uprising, and a lot of people die. At worst, this was a riot. But Trump haters, such as Altex Lansing, cannot tell the truth.

    Altogether, there must be twenty hours, at least, of video of the whole thing. There is plenty of footage of demonstrators just walking around the Capitol. The police at one point seemed to shoot themselves with tear gas. Viking Man is on video, thanking the cops for their courtesy and promising to pray for them. Some insurrection.

    Oh, the humanity!!

    The anger the reviewer sees on the demonstrators’ faces is the anger of people who are convinced they’ve been stolen from. Anyone who has had to deal with that knows that “anger” is inadequate to describe the emotion.

    There is a well credentialed journalist, Elizabeth Nickson, who writes a Substack with the wonderful title, “Welcome to Absurdistan.” It isn’t paywalled. About a month ago, she did a series of articles documenting the skulduggery which attended the reporting of the 2020 election results. I had tended to dismiss election deniers, but no more.

  3. Did you ask the film makers? I suspect they did try to interview many of the insurrectionists but the result would have made them look much worse. The interviews may have invariably turned into a rambling nonsense of conspiracies. All different from each other.

    At least The Sixths makes the “protesters” look like (imbecile) patriots. Had they included the interviews, the insurrectionists would have came across as completely insane and the film makers would have been accused of cherry picking the clips. Besides, it’s not their job to absolve or condone. They documented.

    This documentary is as impartial and as real as they come. Even the crazies should be happy about the result. A truthful, balanced masterpiece.


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