The All-American Gang War

Peralta isn't done with his ideological bag of tricks. He later trots out prison incarceration rates, the war on drugs, the crack epidemic of the '80s, the war on gangs, and even the war on crime as forces specifically targeting blacks.

Only in the film's final moments do we hear from people, including some former gang members and football great Jim Brown, who tell us the solution to the gang warfare must come from the residents themselves.

Wouldn't their stories and their efforts at stopping the bloodshed be a better fit for a film like this? But personal responsibility barely make a cameo here.

One former gang member describes how, once he stopped dressing in gangster garb, he felt liberated and free. And his broad smile speaks a truth Peralta almost seems embarrassed to include.

On paper, Peralta's muscular style of documentary is the perfect match for the subject matter. His films always look impressive, and he's assembled a massive database of visuals from L.A.'s most depressed communities.

But he plays fast and loose with the timeline, and the viewer is never quite sure whether the interviews in question are fresh or swiped from the archives. Peralta is also guilty of glamorizing the gang members, giving them plenty of screen time to pose, preen, and flash their colorful gang names.

The talking heads who flesh out the narrative -- Forest Whitaker provides brief narration duties -- alternately glorify and excuse gang behavior. The on-screen academics are even worse, condescending to the gang members as if they had no ability to make any choices for themselves.

To hear them tell it, it's impossible for anyone to resist the drug culture or flee L.A. for healthier environs. Never mind the fact that plenty do just that, or that poor blacks in the area don't all end up wearing blue or red colors.

Naturally, the critical community is throwing its collective arms around the new documentary. But one surprising voice couldn't stomach Peralta's approach.

Manohla Dargis, the New York Times's movie critic and someone who recently jammed an Abu Ghraib analogy into a film review, found the film essentially hollow.

"It's another to argue, as [Peralta] basically and perhaps unwittingly does, that these gangs can be all but excused by racism," she writes.

Crips and Bloods: Made in America goes out of its way in the final half hour to detail the cost of the ongoing war. We see L.A. residents, all of whom have lost a loved one due to gang violence, staring blankly at the screen or crying softly while the camera lingers on their pain.

It's a haunting series of images, but their grief deserves a better documentary.