The oft-stigmatized students of high school speech and debate programs take center stage in this documentary that is less about the personal stories and characters involved in debate than the overwhelming notion that we as a society have bastardized a truly essential form of communication and forced the honest exchange of ideas into extinction. Following two disparate teams of debaters, we first see the originating philosophy of modern debate in action: team one, made up of two affluent white boys, practices the accepted debating technique of “the spread,” rattling off more than 400 words per minute, turning their arguments into a steady, droning attack where winning points is more important than solving problems. The second team, made up of two inner city black students, seeks to challenge the very foundation of this type of debate by applying their arguments to real world situations and force opposing teams into truthful, substantive debate. It’s heartbreaking and infuriating to see these two young verbal activists try to correct an ethically warped system that is responsible for the likes of Karl Rove and Samuel Alito (both of whom are interviewed in the film), and their efforts, though not always successful, poignantly illuminate the origins and effects of using petty technical diversions to win conversations.
Resolved, HBO & Image Entertainment. 99 min. Unrated. $24.99. Releases July 7.