Dirs: David Leaf/John Scheinfeld.US. 2006. 99mins.

Despite its provocativetitle, David Leaf and John Scheinfeld's documentary The US Vs John Lennon is as much a friendly portrait of the lateBeatle as political activist as an expose of early 1970s White House efforts todeport him for that activism. But it fails to clearly delineate when Lennonaffected his times politically as opposed to when he was just responding tothem. As a result, the feature undercuts the drama in Lennon's immigrationstruggle to stay in the USand overstates his prescience as a political figure.

US distributor LionsgateFilms believes there's enough contemporary relevance to Lennon's anti-Vietnamwar views and deportation battles to merit theatrical release (Sept 15 in the US, after appearances at Veniceand Toronto).That's made especially clear in an interview with Gore Vidal, who says,'Lennon represented life, Mr Nixon and Mr Bush represent death.' It's doubtful this anglewill propel the movie to healthy theatrical grosses, however: Lennon was manythings to many people, but Michael Moore he isn't.

Rather, its best prospectswould seem to be TV and/or the DVD market, both in the US and further afield, as a companion to such other past Lennon-relatedvideo product as The Beatles Anthology,John And Yoko's Year Of Peace, The Dick CavettShow: John Lennon And Yoko Ono and the VHS release of Lennon and Ono asguest hosts on Mike Douglas' talk show. That's where Leaf and Scheinfeld's recent past work - Beautiful Dreamer: Brian Wilson And The Story OfSmile and Ricky Nelson Sings -has appeared. And VH1 Rock Docs is a producer on this work.

The directors are strong atcompiling nostalgic archival footage, such as material from Lennon and Ono'sfamous 1969 Bed-In For Peace in Montreal, which grows more charminglyeccentric and sweet with each passing year.

There also are snippets fromtheir appearance on Douglas' show, a nasty row between a churlish Lennon and a New York Times reporter who dares criticise him, and footage from his appearance at a 1971 University of Michigan concert to free radicalactivist John Sinclair. (The last, presumably, from Steve Gebhardt'sdocumentary Ten ForTwo, which could use a DVD release.)

The directors also haveconducted new interviews with various figures from the time, including Vidal,Angela Davis, Walter Cronkite and George McGovern.

As explained in the film byLennon's widow Yoko Ono, his immigration attorney Leon Wildesand others, FBI director J Edgar Hoover and the Nixon White House began tryingto deport the ex-Beatle back to the UK because they feared he would bea political threat to Republicans in 1972. The battle to get rid of him went onuntil 1975, into Gerald Ford's presidency, when a court finally supportedLennon's attempt to stay.

The film does hit thesalient points of this struggle, but the directors lack the journalisticbackground to know when what's clear to them isn't so clear to the audience.This writer, for instance, had to go home after the screening and consult goonline to figure out exactly when and on what grounds Lennon won his battle.

Or if, for that matter,President Ford - who met George Harrison in the White House in 1974 - was moresympathetic to Lennon than Nixon. To be a first-rate documentary, The US Vs John Lennon really needs toexplore angles like that. It also needs to explore the motivation and impact ofLennon's most political album, 1972's SomeTime In New York City, which it hardly mentions.

By the time Lennon won hisimmigration battle, he had moved through his radical phase and went five yearscompletely out of the public eye. Just days before his and Ono's album Double Fantasy came out, he was murderedon Dec 8, 1980, by unbalanced fan Mark Chapman (something covered in Andrew Piddington's recent TheKilling Of John Lennon). This film doesn't addressthose missing years - nor should it - but it does timidly reach for animprobable connection between Lennon's murder and his politics. It is somethingthat should have been left out.

Production companies
Authorized Pictures
LSL Productions Inc
Lions Gate Films
VH1 Rock Docs

International sales
Lions Gate International

US distribution

Executive Producers:
Brad Abramson
Kevin L Beggs
Michael Hirschorn
Lauren Lazin
Nicolas Meyer
Erik Nelson
Tom Ortenberg

Terry Castagnola
David Leaf
Peter S Lynch II
Bill Royce
John Scheinfeld
Kristina Wood
Arlene Wszalek

James Mathers

Peter S Lynch

Main cast
John Lennon
Yoko Ono
Walter Cronkite
Angela Davis
George McGovern
Richard Nixon
Bobby Seale
Gore Vidal