Set as a courtroom drama, Who is Amos Otis? seeks to explore a most difficult scenario; the assassination of a President. While most presidential assassins do not see the inside of a courtroom, Amos Otis (Josh Katawick) does. Set in 2020, following a presidential election, Greg Newberry presents what an ethically fraught situation trying an assassin would be. I found it striking that the writer/director chose to limit the observers to strictly human rights advocates who simply sit there as a silent buffer to remind the litigants not to verbally abuse the defendant.
The court-appointed defense attorney is Jason Johnson (Rico Reid), and the prosecutor is Art Bradley (Michael Bath). Jason and Art have very clear objectives: Mr. Bradley seeks the death penalty while the defender is trying to keep his client alive. For the prosecutor, the case is clear. There is direct footage of Mr. Otis firing two bullets, one which injures a secret service agent and the other killing the unnamed President.
Mr. Johnson, conversely, has to figure out a stratagem to keep his client alive. He really is unmotivated to rely on the jurors to come to such a verdict. So instead, he spends his time egging the other lawyer along, hoping he’ll crack and offer a plea deal. I especially enjoyed the quiet moment when Jason approaches Art and reminds him of what’s needed for a mistrial.
“There is direct footage of Mr. Otis firing two bullets…killing the unnamed President.”
Reid and Bath are excellent as both attorneys at the center of Who is Amos Otis?. The scenes where Jason sits in the cell with Otis are striking and unsettling. Trying to elicit information out of a man who has achieved a goal is a harrowing experience for anyone, let alone a defense counsel. Witnessing Jason Johnson cobble together an insanity defense is fascinating in its deliberateness. Both actors play it so well that it stays underneath your skin.
On the other hand, Art Bradley has a far more straightforward goal. He simply has to make plain to the jury Amos Otis did precisely as he claimed to do and killed a president. The aggressive doggedness Bath imbues the character with feels true to life. His antics and courtroom asides to the Jury definitively situate this courtroom in the South.
While the President who’s been shot remains unstated, it seems the filmmaker has chosen to allude to Mr. Trump. I would have preferred not to have any clue which world leader was assassinated. The clear allusions to 45 complicate everything in the plot. You now have to wonder if the filmmaker set out to demonize a specific president or simply tell a quality story?
Despite that particular quandary, this is a wonderful courtroom drama. Seek out Who is Amos Otis? if you enjoy this particular genre and want an interesting spin on the usual fare.
"…an interesting spin on the usual fare."