From these accounts and reports from the era, Maitland journalistically constructs the moment-to-moment events of the UT shooting while also using the creative freedom of animation to add emotional punctuation. He breaks up the rotoscoping with actual footage and pictures. He syncs up the crack of the gunshot with the moment of impact by having the background briefly flash to red before reverting back to normal. These instances jarringly capture an instant where a life was snuffed out or irrevocably altered, but the rest of the world continues in spite of it. Maitland plays tricks on the viewer, where the animation and the use of voice actors lull the viewer into something closer to the experience of watching a fictional film. Both tools create a distance, but in a brilliant and shattering transition, he abruptly switches to the real, non-animated survivors in mid-sentence, reframing his film away from a harrowing recreation and into a very real purging of guilt and fear from people still plagued by the stresses of the day, leaving the viewer nowhere to hide in the face of persistent pain.
Tower is as potent as a documentary about a historical event can get, using cinematic techniques to make the UT shooting viscerally real and emotionally resonant. Watching these burly, good ol’ boy Texans tear up at their survivor’s guilt and grief counts as some of the most powerful filmmaking from 2016. Maitland somewhat intrusively includes a final commentary from Walter Cronkite in which he speculates about a coarsening of society, something that always gets said in one form or another after a mass shooting. It’s an unnecessary but relevant reminder that humanity is ever capable of both the violence doled out by the shooter and the common heroism and humility borne out of that violence. A-