’11 Minutes’ Review: Documentary about filming in Las Vegas on Paramount+
The four-hour Paramount+ documentary creates a “You Are There” vision of America’s deadliest mass shooting, but — five years later — it lacks any broader perspective.
In the first of about a dozen interviews running across 11 Minutes, radio host Storme Warren chokes trying to explain his role after the 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada. Warren, a popular country DJ, took to the stage during the Route 91 Harvest music festival that killed 58 and injured 869 others in what became the deadliest mass shooting in American history. Warren escaped unharmed, but not unscathed.
“The storyteller carries a very high weight,” he says, his voice choking in his throat. “A lot of responsibility to get it right.” It’s been five years since the Oct. 1 tragedy, and Warren is not only living with the heartbreaking memories, but trying to find a positive, meaningful lesson in them.
“Rather than trying to forget it, let’s make something good out of it,” he says, just before the 11 Minutes title card hits the screen.
The documentary from director and executive producer Jeff Zimbalist sporadically and unsuccessfully attempts the same thing. Narrated over four heart-wrenching hours, the Paramount+ series adheres to two main frames: first-person footage of the shooting itself (footsteps from bystanders’ cell phones, police officers’ body cams, surveillance cameras, etc.) and new interviews with the victims, law enforcement officers, paramedics and parents. Using her memories of the traumatizing event as narration through tumultuous, grainy footage of the night’s mayhem, 11 Minutes is undeniably horrific. The fear, either captured on the faces of terrified five-year-old concert-goers or heard in the voices of those recalling their shared experience, is palpable, unnerving and deeply disturbing.
It’s also everything there is to this ill-conceived documentary. Zimbalist meticulously reconstructs everything from the initial confusion surrounding those early gunshots (witnesses thought they were fireworks or feedback from the stage) to the police’s search for the shooter in Mandalay Bay, floor by floor, room by room. A ticking clock appears to remind viewers how little time has passed despite so much going on – stretching the 11 minute shots to nearly two hours of storytelling. The first few episodes keep you trapped along with the concert-goers during an active shootout. The third mainly revolves around the police finding the killer, and the fourth largely catches up with the current lives of the participants.
But when all four agonizing hours are over, it’s unclear what or who the vicarious suffering is for. Festival-goers and emergency workers have their own ways of dealing with it. Don’t participate in the documentary enough to give the impression that the interview was therapeutic (or even engaging). As for the bystanders, stories have been written, news reports given, and studies conducted to better understand what happened. 11 Minutes isn’t breaking news unless you consider a lengthy interview with Jason Aldean, who was singing onstage when the shooting rang out, to be ‘news’. It breaks down painful memories in hopes of inspiring… what exactly?
It’s certainly not real-world action. Any discussion of gun control is limited to a five-minute segment in the final episode, ensuring it contains broad talking points for both sides. A victim’s parents mention how they were persuaded to fight for stricter gun regulations, and a SWAT officer counters, albeit unconvincingly. “These instruments aren’t why people leave,” he says, before adding the amazing kicker: “[Mass shootings are] will continue until society behaves.”
Similar platitudes are offered as “11 Minutes” struggles to reach a conclusion by focusing on survivors bonded through trauma and heroes reconnecting with the people whose lives they saved. Perhaps some take inspiration from an off-duty cop who refused to leave a country fan behind, or a Las Vegas detective who saved the life of a co-worker after being shot on his first day of duty. But those stories have been told elsewhere, and they pale in comparison to the absolute horrors that dominate the rest of the documentaries.
“11 Minutes” tries to leave the audience with a constructive snack. Zimbalist specifically refuses to give the shooter’s name, including explanations from experts that it only motivates more attention-grabbing killers to collect more and more bodies. There is also an admirable discipleship in most of the victims interviewed as we see them gather to speak, remember and heal. But the documentaries are not concentrated enough to give a final impression beyond the fears. “Imagine if this could happen to you,” says one of the victim’s parents. “What are you going to do about it?” — a question that 11 Minutes does not provide guidance on.
Courtesy of Paramount+
Some survivors try to find the silver lining. “I’m not looking at what this guy did,” says a paramedic. “I’m looking at what the hundreds of heroes did that night — people risking their lives for other people.” For Warren, a similar tact is good – a valuable mentality for the clearly affected survivor to build on as they move forward with a life for which they are clearly grateful. Other subjects feel the same way, often spurred on by the men and women who worked to save them, but any belief in those around us is overwhelmed by two key aspects of the docuseries: First, there’s the overwhelming portrayal of the Sagittarian’s devastating actions. 11 Minutes is painful to experience, and it’s intentional. No one will want to find themselves in a situation similar to Vegas, and with a stronger framework, such scaremongering could have pushed viewers into solution-based thinking. Even now, there’s a chance some might walk away in more sympathy than panic…unless they recall a brief snippet from a previous episode.
As Jonathan Smith, a Black Country fan from South Central LA, describes the immediate aftermath of his shooting, he recalls walking up to a car and begging the driver to take him to a hospital. Instead of doing the bare minimum and helping, “the couple rolled up the windows and left,” he says. When they looked directly at a man with a gunshot wound in the neck – a man who earlier in the episode described blatant discrimination by white viewers after already feeling ostracized by a predominantly white country fan base – these people ignored him and fled.
For any heroes who properly excel, 11 Minutes inadvertently acknowledges the many villains hiding in plain sight. It is so determined to tell a politically neutral version of events that it loses all discernible conviction. There is neither anger nor measured intent here. You can learn whatever you want, and it’s hard to imagine anything taking the form of “something good.”
“11 Minutes” premiered on Tuesday, September 27th on Paramount+.
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https://www.indiewire.com/2022/09/11-minutes-review-las-vegas-shooting-documentary-paramount-plus-1234766746/ ’11 Minutes’ Review: Documentary about filming in Las Vegas on Paramount+