Barak Goodman's Oklahoma City -- a documentary about exactly what you think it's about -- benefits from fortuitous timing. The film is brisk, tense and informative, always compelling as it surveys the rise of the right-wing militias that boomed in the Clinton era. Elements of Goodman's précis of the standoffs at Waco and Ruby Ridge might even surprise those of us who paid attention during the era. Here's 1993 video footage of Timothy McVeigh himself, gawky and chill, peddling bumper stickers to spectators not far from the Branch-Davidian compound. Just two years later, on the anniversary of the compound's immolation, McVeigh's bomb would kill 168 in Oklahoma City.
The film traces the steps of McVeigh's bomb-making and eventual capture. It reports his reading habits (The Turner Diaries, an early classic of fake news), his military career (he was surprised not to love killing Iraqis) and his outrage at the federal government. It shows us the flames of his fury, and tries to identify the match that lit them, but it offers little insight into just why he was so combustible. Occasionally Goodman resorts to hoary cliché, showing us a corkboard pinned over with headlines and photos, a string from each tying back to McVeigh in the center. He can trace the connections but not the deeper why.
Still, Goodman scores a high class of talking heads: writers and journalists, survivors and witnesses, first responders and FBI investigators. There are tears and terror, and one story of an emergency amputation in the wreckage that takes an impossible MacGyver turn. But mostly the film is a procedural, reporting on the search for a suspect rather than searching for much itself.