Documentaries: The Giant Killer (2018) - Reviewed

On May 9, 2015, Richard Flaherty was killed in a hit and run in Miami, Florida. He was a homeless man who was well known to many in the area including a police officer named David Yuzuk. Yuzuk had become friends with Flaherty and, after his death, wanted to learn more about him. Specifically, he wanted to know how Flaherty went from being a decorated soldier to being homeless. As he investigated, he learned that Richard’s life was even more complex than he had thought. And he turned that investigation into a documentary, The Giant Killer. ​

For starters, at four feet, nine inches, Richard Flaherty was the smallest man to serve in the military (at the very least, he was at the time he enlisted). Not only did he serve, he became a platoon leader for the 101st Airborne. His men describe him as both fearless and ruthless. He had to be to get as far as he did. After the military, he worked for the ATF. Later, after a series of jobs, he appears to have voluntarily decided to start living on the streets. ​

Yuzuk mainly uses voiceovers and interviews to tell Flaherty’s tale. However, because there is very little footage of Flaherty and few recent photos, he also decided to use reenactments. With very few exceptions, I do not care for reenactments in documentaries. It adds an element of unnecessary artifice to the film. Also, the vast majority of the times it is used in this film, we are being shown things that did not have to be made visual for us to get the point. It took me out of the film because I knew that I was suddenly watching something that was not real. This is a problem considering this movie is about an investigation into the true story of Richard Flaherty’s life. ​

The Giant Killer tells a story so strange and fascinating that, in the end, it is a disappointment that the film is so dry and repetitive. Flaherty’s story is mainly told through Yuzuk’s conversations with Flaherty’s family members, as well as people Flaherty served and worked with. They each only knew pieces of his life and who he really was. This adds a strong air of mystery to the story. But the pieces never fully come together. Yuzuk’s biggest questions (Why was he homeless? Was he still working for the government? Was someone trying to get him or was he paranoid?) remain something of a mystery all the way to the end. There is a lot of speculation among the interviewees, but the only person who knew the whole truth was Flaherty, and he kept his full story to himself. ​

Because of that, the film loses its focus. Yuzuk is never able to coherently map out the last twenty-plus years of Flaherty’s life. The film is interesting, but very unsatisfying. Richard Flaherty was a complicated man who lived a bizarre and surprising life. I am glad that Yuzuk at least tried to make some sense of his story as a way of honoring his friend. But the story ended up being far more fascinating than the film telling it. 

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-Ben Pivoz