Never Look Away review: An indelible portrait of journalist Margaret Moth
Never Look Away review | The groundbreaking commitment of Margaret Moth to capture the realities of war forms the basis of this deeply moving documentary.
If you've not heard the name of Margaret Moth it is because she was never a person who became a household name and had mammoth fame. The CNN camerawoman and photojournalist would rather show you the direct, handheld sights and sounds of destruction and havoc caused by war. In actor Lucy Lawless' documentary feature debut that premiered at Sundance this year, Margaret is a woman whose defiance and desire are never quite graspable: she is always a step ahead of easy definition. What made her this defiant woman? Never Look Away stays close to her lifelong journey as a woman, friend, lover, sister and a committed professional to seek answers. (Also read: A Real Pain review: Kieran Culkin steals the show in this sharply observed drama)
The documentary does a nice trick of beginning her life story from the perspective of her lover Jeff, who courted her when she was in her 30s and he was just 17. Born in New Zealand, Margaret was then working from Houston. It's a rather surprising choice, one that gradually evolves into the tapestry of anecdotes and stories about her that will form the breath of this rousing narrative. This was a woman who was carefree yet self-aware, one whose journey extended from capturing terrifying proximity to footage of war to more disturbing details about her abusive childhood.
As her sisters will reveal, they were beaten by their violent parents, and they were all a little scared back in the day. Margaret would also draw troubling, dark illustrations out of anyone's reach. So there was an invisible thread of connection joining these two zones. A pain endured and felt so deeply that it hardened into a perspective on life forever. Never Look Away follows her journey through the decades, as Margaret would go on to work with CNN to capture footage from Persian Gulf War, the Bosnian War and the 2006 Lebanon War.
When the subject itself is so powerful and galvanizing, the documentary itself reflects that without much force. Such is the case with Never Look Away, a rather simplistic and heartfelt portrait of a woman whose defiance was her strongest armour. She put her life through danger, every single day while she was away with her camera on those areas, to capture the shot of violence that surrounded her. The moments are terrifying to witness, certainly more potent in echoing how nothing really has changed in all these years. Houses are bombed, innocent civilians are still killed, and yet there's life that rushes by. Margaret embodied that spirit, and Lawless paints a heartfelt and intimate portrait of her as someone who would not back down. Even after that horrifying sniper attack that almost killed her, and altered her face forever.
The segment that ultimately covers that difficult episode in Margaret's life is so chilling that I forgot to breathe. Yet, her spirit remained unbroken. She was back to work six months later. Even as the documentary becomes a tad bit shaky in segments, the spirit of the subject holds it back to form. Never Look Away is a testament to the exceptional legacy that is left behind by Margaret Moth, in all her curious and unsentimental energy.
Santanu Das is covering the Sundance Film Festival 2024 as part of the accredited press.