With methodical precision, the documentary 3 1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets dissects a brief, pivotal moment in time, when one life is lost and others are irretrievably altered. The facts of this particular story may ring wrenchingly familiar: In 2012, on the day after Thanksgiving in Jacksonville, Florida, an African American teenager named Jordan Davis got into a verbal altercation with a middle-aged white man at a gas station over the volume of rap music playing in the car the adolescent and his friends were sitting in. The older man, Michael Dunn, reached into his glove compartment and pulled out a gun, shooting the 17-year-old Davis to death and pumping 10 bullets into the red SUV before the boy’s frantic friends were able to drive out of the parking lot.
Because the encounter occurred in Florida, Dunn was able to use the state’s “stand your ground” law for his defense, the same statute that George Zimmerman invoked when he shot Trayvon Martin earlier that year. With 3 1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets, filmmaker Marc Silver meticulously revisits the events of that fateful Black Friday, as well as the two ensuing trials, giving viewers a sober, step-by-step perspective on the crime, as well as its aftermath. There’s no doubt that Silver is firmly of the belief that Dunn was guilty of murder. He goes out of his way to interview Davis’s distraught but galvanized parents, Ron Davis and Lucia McBath, whereas Dunn’s point of view is represented primarily by his own courtroom testimony and self-pitying calls from prison to his fiancee, Rhonda Rouer. At one point, Dunn compares himself to a “raped girl who’s blamed for wearing skimpy clothes.”
But having such a clear-cut point-of-view bias in no way hinders 3 1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets from having an impact. Silver matter-of-factly lays out the reasoning behind Dunn’s actions — actions rooted in conscious and unconscious assumptions about rap music, black teenagers, guns and gangs — and the wobbly proposition underlying the stand-your-ground philosophy, which privileges perceived threats above actual danger, and does away with such established notions of civility as the duty to de-escalate and retreat.
Oddly, the extensive testimony from two trials, including an initial mistrial, never suggests that Dunn’s having imbibed three or four rum-and-cokes before arriving at the gas station might have impaired his ability to make a reasonable judgment regarding Davis’s actions. And even those who followed the trial closely may be surprised by the testimony that ultimated sealed Dunn’s fate.
A deep core of emotion gives 3 1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets its ballast, but Silver, who also serves as cinematographer, infuses the production with simple, elegant sophistication. Todd Boekelheide’s jazz-infused score heightens the feeling that you’re not watching a documentary as much as a taut, true-life contemporary thriller. The fact that many in the audience may know how this mystery ends does nothing to lessen the tension, or the feeling of thudding, impotent grief, when the final verdict is delivered.
Writer-director: Marc Silver.
A Participant Media release. Running time: 85 minutes. Vulgar language, disturbing imagery. In Miami-Dade only: Cosford Cinema.