Review: 'John Lewis: Good Trouble' frames life of civil rights icon

Documentary looks at 80-year-old congressman, activist, and maker of the good kind of trouble

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

John Lewis has lived an A+ life. Director Dawn Porter's documentary about that life is a solid B. 

Porter examines the politician and civil rights icon who has a habit of getting in trouble — good trouble, or necessary trouble, as he calls it. That includes 45 arrests, five of those since he's been serving as a member of U.S. Congress, for protests, sit-ins, and doing his part to fight injustice. And he's not finished yet. "As long as I have breath in my body," he says, "I will do what I can."   

John Lewis in "John Lewis: Good Trouble."

"John Lewis: Good Trouble" looks at Lewis' life as an activist, and finds no shortage of big voices — including Bill and Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib — to express their admiration for Lewis and his accomplishments.

And those accomplishments are plenty. He was one of the Freedom Riders in 1961, he was there at the March on Washington in August 1963, and he crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, in March 1965. He's been a key figure in the civil rights movement for decades, mobilizing, organizing and legislating to help right the wrongs of the past.

So in this current moment of nationwide Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of the death of George Floyd, "Good Trouble" couldn't be more timely. Yet it feels strangely incomplete, and finds Lewis, 80, looking back over his life even as there's still important work being done. 

Porter couldn't have accounted for current events, but they oddly provide the narrative peg that could help drive "Good Trouble" home inside a modern framework. Lewis is filmed in front of a large backdrop where footage of his past plays behind him. But Lewis isn't a guy who's fixed on looking back. He's still fighting for the future.


'John Lewis: Good Trouble'


Rated PG: for thematic material including some racial epithets/violence, and for smoking

Running time: 97 minutes

Starts Friday through the Detroit Film Theatre and Cinema Detroit