‘January 6th’ Review: Scenes of a Riot

As with their previous projects, the directors Gédéon and Jules Naudet (“9/11,” “November 13: Attack on Paris”) have crafted a documentary that revolves around a national tragedy. “January 6th,” about the U.S. Capitol riot, posed a similar challenge: How exactly does one go about telling a story whose drama and horror is being seen and reported on in real time, and that continues to inundate the country in fragmented pieces in the two years since?

The filmmakers take a rather straightforward approach — one that lends the film its power. “January 6th” sticks strictly to a chronological recounting of events, piecing together the progression of the violence that day through video footage and details from talking-head interviews with those who were either defending the grounds or hiding within them.

Strikingly, it mostly abstains from theorizing on the political context that could foment an attack like this (see “This Place Rules,” another new Jan. 6 documentary, as the flip side to this coin); instead, we are left simply with what happened on the ground, as told by Capitol Police officers, journalists and lawmakers. In this sense, the film does not offer any particularly new insights, but witnessing the events of Jan. 6 this way — as a matter-of-fact, two-and-a-half-hour montage that seems to occur at once in slow motion and with shocking speed — creates a terror that is perhaps newly visceral and sustained.

Across the film is a constant, dreaded creep — of violence escalating and piercing through fences and windows, of the sound of a mob getting closer to barricaded doors. It all adds up to a frightening and necessary document of a deadly day, and also, as the camera continually swoops through a 3-D rendering of the Capitol to transition to a new scene of horror, a grave understanding that things could have gone far worse.

January 6th
Not rated. Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes. Watch on Discovery+.

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