'Nail Bomber: Man Hunt' documentary review: By the book, but timely

The film shapes the narrative with voices of survivors and frontline workers who witnessed the blasts up and close.

Published: 06th June 2021 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 05th June 2021 06:13 PM   |  A+A-

A still from 'Nail Bomber: Manhunt'

A still from 'Nail Bomber: Manhunt'

Express News Service

Remember when The Trial of Chicago 7, a film chronicling the litigious aftermath of the anti-Vietnam war protests in the US, bore an uncanny resemblance to the 2019 Citizenship Amendment Act protests in India? The similarity, which transcended geographical and political differences, was a testament to the theme of resistance and made the Aaron Sorkin-directorial a timely tale of humanity. It’s such timeliness that makes Netflix’s Nail Bomber: Man Hunt, a documentation of the 1999 London bombings, a discomfiting, but relevant experience.

Over three consecutive weekends in the April of 1999, homemade bombs stocked up with nearly 1,500 nails each were planted in public places. It cumulatively killed three and maimed over 140. The perpetrator, the-then 22-year-old David Copeland, identified himself as a Neo-Nazi and conceded that his sordid act was fuelled by his resentment towards minorities. The relevance of the 1999 documentary emanates from the hate crimes we continue to read about every day. Directed by Daniel Vernon, this could-have-been brilliant documentary, unfortunately, loses out in its hurriedness.

It is a hasty examination of the hate-instigated catastrophes that leave you wishing there was more than just annotations.

The film shapes the narrative with voices of survivors and frontline workers who witnessed the blasts up and close. Despite this, it gives you the impression of being a mere re-enactment of the tragedy. The intention—to paint a comprehensive picture with multiple perspectives—is commendable, but it whittles the opportunity to examine the bigotry that led to the bomb blasts. The short-format 72-minute runtime is a major impediment, considering that it touches on expansive concepts such as racism, homophobia, marginalisation, and bigotry.


Also the over-reliance on using the same template as The Search for Bin Laden and Ted Bundy Tapes makes it appear near-formulaic. The idea of using the interview of a spy in a right-wing organisation to give the insider view feels manipulatively dramatic. The hooded actor’s face is kept in the dark under the pretext of maintaining anonymity, but it is pretty clear that it’s all scripted. And this sticks out like a sore thumb, robbing the documentary of any empathy that it may have generated.

However, what distinguishes Nail Bomber from other true-crime documentaries is its choice of putting ‘why’ over ‘who’. In the age of Google, the answer to ‘who is the nail bomber?’ is a search away. Conscious of that, the filmmaker instead chooses to burnish the motives that propelled the titular bomber’s actions. The subject matter offers plenty of room for mystery, and it’s commendable that the makers retain it in just the right measure to keep proceedings riveting.


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