Terror's Advocate – DVD Review

Available at Amazon.com

Terror’s Advocate is a documentary about the life of Jacques Vergès, a French lawyer who defended a number of controversial figures throughout his life. The movie starts with Vergès first becoming involved with defending accused FLN bombers and continues on up to present day, exploring many of the big moments in his career.

Vergès is a complex guy. Even when after the documentary wrapped up, I still wasn’t really sure what to think of him. Vergès has defended a wide range of people. As the name of the film suggests, many of those people were involved with various terrorist organizations.

The story is told mostly through interviews (mainly in French; fortunately, the subtitling is devoid of any major mistakes). The interviews come from reporters, historians, people involved with different aspects of Jacques’ life and even from Jacques Vergès himself. The interviews are complimented with footage of the incidents being described. In some cases, when no footage was available, there are fairly well done re-enactments instead.

Vergès spends much of his time, or at least most of his time in the documentary, defending are the National Liberation Front and Palestinian terror groups. In many cases, Vergès seems to be quite open about the fact the people he was defending were indeed guilty of the crimes they were accused of. At the same time though, the accused were often being tortured and denied basic rights (particularly in the FLN cases) and Vergès is sympathetic to their causes.

Unfortunately, while Vergès was extensively interviewed for Terror’s Advocate, there are questions he refuses to answer. The biggest downside of this is that there is no solid information on what happened to Vergès after his disappearance in 1970. The man was missing for eight years and all we know for sure was that he chose to abandon his family and go into hiding. There’s all kinds of speculation about what he may have done during those eight years, but there’s nothing definitive and Vergès himself plays it coy.

As Terror’s Advocate goes on, the narrative gets somewhat muddled. With the final few events the film deals with, a lot of backstory is necessary. The backstory is about the people Vergès defends, not about Vergès. As a result, there are times when he practically disappears from the film.

This muddled narrative contributes to a rather unsatisfactory ending. The movie doesn’t really reach any sort of big conclusion or climatic final event. It just kind of ends.

Ultimately, Terror’s Advocate is a good documentary. It had the potential to be a great one, but it just sort of loses its way about two-thirds of the way through and never really recovers.

The video is presented in 1.85:1. As Terror’s Advocate is a documentary, the video comes in a variety of sources of varying quality. The stuff shot for the documentary looks nice enough though. The audio is in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround. It’s a documentary so there’s not a ton going on, sound-wise but it’s workable enough.

A documentary like this one should be rife with extras. There has to be hours and hours of unused interview footage; both extended answers to questions we have already seen and dealing with topics that ended up not being addressed in the actual documentary. Regrettably, none of those interviews ended up on the disc as extras.

Historical Timeline – The only actual extra included on the disc. It’s a detailed historical timeline of Vergès life. It’s text only but it mentions many things that are not covered in the actual movie.

TrailersRedacted, Outlaw, and Flawless are featured here.

Terror’s Advocate paints an in-depth and fascinating picture of Jacques Vergès while allowing the viewer to make their own conclusions about Mr. Vergès. Unfortunately, there are many unanswered questions when the movie ends, making it difficult to make that decision. The documentary just cries out for a heavy dose of extras to help provide those answer; the sparse nature of the disc’s sole extra really hurts the DVD.


Magnolia Home Entertainment presents Terror’s Advocate. Directed by: Barbet Schroeder. Starring: Yacef Saadi, Jacques Vergès. Running time: 137 minutes. Rating: Not Rated. Released on DVD: February 19, 2008. Available at Amazon.com