Documentaries about charitable ventures that aim to instill confidence in underprivileged kids by teaching them a skill that increases their self-esteem are a staple of the industry, and Christopher Dalrymple’s “Choice of Weapons” fits comfortably into that niche. It centers on the Peter Westbrook Foundation, founded by the Olympic medalist in New York to instruct inner-city kids in fencing and, through it, a sense of discipline and purpose. The narrative follows Westbrook, a chatty and colorful guy, as he leads his prize pupils through Olympic trials and other competitions to the US National Championships in Austin in the summer of 2000.
The picture is a bare-bones effort, shot on video and structured in an entirely conventional way, with interviews intercut with footage of practices, matches and conversations between teacher and pupils. Certainly it shows the successes of the program in training some fine fencers not only in the sport but in the art of competing civilly; and it shows how the program helps many of them stay off the streets and improve their schoolwork. The kids and Westbrook, moreover, are all pleasant, likable folks. The film doesn’t go much beyond the obvious, though, and at well over an hour it seems a bit too long. It’s also curious that the story stops more than two years ago, without telling us how the competitors did in the Olympic trials or the Olympic games themselves. That’s probably just a result of the fact that it’s been around awhile, but at this stage it’s still a bit frustrating; maybe some closing crawls could have been added to provide a update.
“Choice of Weapons” is hardly a masterpiece, but it introduces viewers to a good charitable enterprise and some interesting real people. It would be more at home as a filler on a pay-cable network than in a theatre, however.