The Force

A look at a Bay Area police department’s desperate struggle to become woke.

Setting aside that its title would have made it unsearchable even if Don Winslow hadn’t recently published a high-profile novel of the same name about a controversial police department — a book that’s already being made into a big-budget narrative feature — Peter Nicks’ documentary The Force follows two rough years in the controversial Oakland Police Department. Nicks’s Force begins in Fall 2014, after the department had already been under federal oversight for police misconduct and civil-rights abuses for some 11 years, with new police chief Sean Whent determined to fix its reputation in the phone-and-YouTube era by introducing transparency in the form of body cameras. Plus, you know, fewer civilian deaths.

Much of The Force is shot you-are-there, with Nicks’ cameras following the officers as they try to adjust to the new realities, with many narrative gaps filled in by quote from local newspapers. Some progress seems to be made, especially in a substantial dip in the number of shootings, when the picture takes an icky second-act turn: A prostitution scandal involving a minor implicates 16 Oakland police officers, including reformer Whent. When Mayor Libby Schaaf pledges to root out the department’s “toxic macho culture,” it’s hard not to wonder if maybe, just maybe, that was the problem all along.

The Force
Not rated.
Opens Friday at the Embarcadero Center Cinema.

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