DIFF Review: Tower

Score: A-

Director: Keith Maitland 

Cast: Violet Beane, Blair Jackson, Josephine McAdam, Reece Everett Ryan

Running Time: 96 Minutes

Rated: NR


A harrowing combination of archival footage, interviews and animation, Tower relives Austin’s worst day.

On Aug. 1, 1966, Charles Whitman killed his wife and mother, then took to the Tower at the University of Texas and shot at random people for 90 minutes, killing 14 and wounding 32 others. At the time, it was the worst mass shooting in the United States.

What keeps Tower from being redundant or exploitative is its focus on the victims. Using transcripts from older interviews as well as those recorded specifically for this project, director Keith Maitland filmed actors reading the words of the survivors, then animated the footage to stage surreal reenactments.

Part of this was born of necessity: UT wouldn’t let them shoot full reenactments on campus. But it forced Maitland to get creative while still honoring the victims.

Occasionally, the animation gets a little too cutesy, at least when it’s superimposed on archival footage. But at its best, it recalls both Richard Linklater’s existential Waking Life and Ari Folman’s harrowing Waltz with Bashir.

Maitland’s unconventional choices always serve the film, particularly in its choice of music. Its mix of pop songs and score always match the mood, even when they’re unexpected. The emotional climax of the film is set to Debussy’s “Clair de Lune,” which was one of the murderer’s favorite pieces. According to the director, it was his way of acknowledging the brief respite Whitman had from what tormented him.

Though cut like a thriller, Tower never cheapens any of the complex emotions of that day. There are genuine moments of humor and humanity to be found among all the horror and chaos.

No matter how much UT would like to forget it, Tower reminds us of the people we should remember from that day. Media has always sought to focus on the killers who perpetrate such barbaric acts of violence, but this movie rights that wrong, honoring the everyday heroes who kept it from being much worse.


About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.

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