In 2011, Gabrielle Giffords, then a Democratic congresswoman, was hosting a public meet-and-greet outside a Safeway supermarket in Arizona when a gunman opened fire into the gathering, killing six people and wounding many more. Giffords suffered a bullet to the head that shattered her skull and wreaked havoc on the left side of her brain. She now struggles with aphasia, a condition that interferes with the expression of language.
The documentary “Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down” offers a sentimental tour of the former congresswoman’s recovery process and her efforts to prevent gun violence in the years following the shooting. The film also provides a window into Giffords’s marriage to Senator Mark Kelly, a former space shuttle pilot with NASA. Kelly was a pillar of support for Giffords during her rehabilitation, and in 2020 he picked up the thread of her work in politics when he won a special election to represent Arizona in the Senate.
Gun control is an urgent issue, and the directors Betsy West and Julie Cohen (“RBG”) scored big time with a frank talking-head interview with former President Barack Obama, who discusses the nation’s need for gun safety laws. At the same time, the film is not shy about positioning Giffords’s advocacy work alongside an assessment of her views on firearms more broadly, including that she and her husband are gun owners.
But by and large, this is a human interest story. We begin amid painful home video clips of Giffords in the hospital following the attack. We end with triumphant footage of her and Kelly giving speeches onstage. Even during more analytic or crusading sections, the documentary’s mood never strays from inspirational.
Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down
Rated PG-13. The horrors of gun violence. Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes. In theaters.