“Sometimes reasonable men must do unreasonable things.” Those words were written in 2004 by Marvin Heemeyer and found several days after he went on a bulldozer rampage through a small Colorado town. For obvious reasons the story caught national attention but only for a short time. President Ronald Reagan died the very next day, quickly stealing the headlines. Meanwhile the locals were left trying to make sense out of what had happened.
“Tread” is a fascinating documentary from Paul Solet that examines the lead-up and eventual wave of destruction in Granby, Colorado. The story is constructed through a combination of interviews, reenactments, camcorder footage, and actually audio from cassette recordings Heemeyer left behind. Solet gives plenty of attention to the genesis of Heemeyer’s rage and carefully uncoils the motivations behind the “job” he believed God had asked him do.
Through a sly and absorbing story structure Solet begins by playing with our sympathies. The film makes a compelling case that Heemeyer was a victim of “good ol’ boy” small town politics. In interviews friends portray him as a fun-loving, larger-than-life guy. A friendly, self-made man who loved snowboarding and had a knack for welding and working on engines.
Heemeyer was from South Dakota but stationed in Colorado while serving in the Air Force. He liked it so much that he stayed, buying a home in Granby and a two acre spot of land where he built a muffler shop. He earned the reputation of being a fine citizen and a hard worker. But things soured when Heemeyer’s business was annexed into the sewer district. The local board informed him that he was not only required to connect to the town’s sewer lines, but to pay to run the lines himself. Something that would cost up to $80,000. It set in motion a series of conflicts between Heemeyer and those in power who he felt were trying to squeeze him out.
But then Solet takes an interesting turn and begins considering the disputes from different points of view, particularly from the city officials and businessmen who were involved. They each paint a much different picture of the situations which led to the bad blood. The new perspectives instantly challenge our sympathies. It muddies the waters and the reliability of Heemeyer’s narration is suddenly called into question. The same audio tapes that first put us on his side suddenly become full of self-justification for the horrible act he was preparing for.
Heemeyer purchased a Komatsu D55A bulldozer and for a year worked in secret to turn it into a tank, reinforced with steel and concrete. It was impenetrable and June 4, 2004, Marvin Heemeyer sealed himself in and set out to destroy select targets￼￼ around Granby. From there Solet’s film takes yet another form. You would think you were suddenly watching a grindhouse thriller except for the real camcorder footage that injects it with reality. Solet keeps us glued to the screen as this unbelievable rampage plays out.
“Tread” is thoroughly compelling filmmaking; a documentary just as interested in the buildup as the notorious headline-making act. It may start slow for some, but even those early moments offer a fuller picture of Marvin Heemeyer and his ultimately beef with Granby, Colorado. And by the time we get to his destructive warpath we practically feel like citizens ourselves.
VERDICT – 4 STARS