‘No Responders Left Behind’ Review: Heroes Need Heroes Too

In “No Responders Left Behind,” John Feal is a kind of action hero — political action, that is. This documentary by Rob Lindsay follows Feal’s tenacious efforts to obtain government health benefits and compensation for the thousands of rescuers with illnesses and injuries from working on Sept. 11, 2001, and beyond.

Feal organizes multipronged campaigns to press Congress to pass aid bills, and the government’s delays and denials feel increasingly galling as the documentary retraces the timeline using interviews and archival footage. The banner piece of legislation on the benefits issue — the Zadroga Act — was not passed until 2010, with renewal and related pushes necessary in 2015 and 2019.

Feal — who was injured by falling steel while managing World Trade Center debris removal — is blunt and funny in a way that helps cut through the movie’s hurried, sound-bitey, fundamentally televisual quality. Along the way, he introduces (and amiably rags on) some fellow injured responders, including Ray Pfeifer, a revered firefighter (who died in 2017). He’s open about his tactic of putting politicians on the spot and pushing buttons as necessary. Jon Stewart lends his celebrity as a loyal and sincere supporter of the cause, testifying before Congress.

While pragmatic in bent, the documentary repeatedly underlines the toxic manner in which this country treats many who have sacrificed body and mind in service to others. With its blue-collar ranks of responders, the movie also shows who tends to bear such all-consuming burdens and how it can take someone singular like Feal to get both attention and results.

No Responders Left Behind
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 19 minutes. Watch on Discovery+.

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