'Motley's Law': Film Review

Courtesy of The Chicago Film Festival
A tense and involving doc.

Nicole Nielsen Horanyi's doc profiles the sole foreign lawyer licensed to practice in Afghanistan.

The heroine of the documentary Motley's Law loves superheroes, her favorite being the second Wonder Woman, but this former "Miss Wisconsin" is even gutsier than those comic-book poseurs. With her law degree, Kimberley Motley does not practice in the comfy Midwest; she practices law in Afghanistan. She is, in fact, the only licensed foreigner to practice law there.

How do you practice law in what is essentially a lawless land? And why? Does she have a death wish? Nope. It started when Motley needed to pay off massive student debt and signed on for a legal-aide stint in Afghanistan. What's amazing and wonderful is that she is very much an ordinary woman, but in the best sense of the word: Motley is a soccer mom back in the United States (where she visits frequently), and a caring, supportive wife.

Filmmaker Nicole Nielsen Horanyi charts Motley's day-to-day legal quests, which are simultaneously survival challenges. Her apartment/office has been struck by a grenade when she was back in the United States visiting her family, and her assistant/driver, Khalil, is afraid to go near the building.

In this jarring, up-close depiction, the filmmakers throw us into Motley's world as she handles physical threats, bullying bureaucrats and the constant male/religious chauvinism of the local culture. She indeed has the superwoman mindset, which she fortifies with tenacity, humor and the sagacity to work the system, which, in the case of Afghanistan, is dysfunctional and dangerous.

Motley is fearless, but she's also endearing; she's not an abrasive personality or a crusading egocentric as one might expect from a person who puts herself in harm's way in a land to which she has no personal attachment. She's also refreshingly non-P.C.: She has little patience with what she considers an ineffectual U.S. Embassy, as well as the "bitches" from pompous women's groups who live for congratulatory coverage in The New York Times.

Under Horanyi's brave, incisive direction, Motley's Law wins in viewer appeal. Special kudos to Kristian Eidnes Andersen's edgy music, stirring the story with a tense Z-like foreboding.

Director/screenwriter: Nicole Nielsen Horanyi

Producer: Helle Faber

Editors: Nicolaj Monberg, Steen Johannessen

Music: Kristian Eidnes Andersen

No rating, 85 minutes