February 26, 2020 Tread (Documentary Review)
On June 4th, 2004, in the town of Granby, Colorado, local welder and repairman Marvin Heemeyer outfitted a massive bulldozer with concrete-reinforced steel plates and went on a rampage, destroying several buildings and causing millions in damage. Heemeyer’s tale, as told by him, is that of a desperate man seeking revenge against a town he felt had conspired against and wronged him over a number of years, but was his path of destruction the act of someone pushed to the edge or the climax of the self-fulfilling prophecy of an unstable man?
Available On Demand as of Friday, February 28, 2020 through Gravitas Ventures, such is the focus of the new film by Paul Solet, Tread. The first documentary from Solet, who has directed a list of feature films including 2009’s Grace and 2017’s Bullet Head, Tread presents a well-rounded analysis of the town, people, and local politics that shaped the events of that day. Heemeyer, affectionately called Marv by his friends and peers, seems to be your classic everyman in rural America: hardworking, driven, and independent. The first third of the film centers on Marv and his relations with his closest friends and ex-girlfriend, who describe him as affable and humble, focused on his business and spending free-time snowmobiling with his comrades. He bought a 2-acre plot of land for $42,000, built a successful muffler shop, and was seemingly enjoying life until a series of zoning disputes brought him and the town into conflict.
According to Marv, the town council wanted to take over his land in order to expand the concrete business of one of the town’s longtime residents. Marv, who was originally from South Dakota, believed they were doing this because he was an outsider, and that there was a massive conspiracy against him. He became increasingly hostile and paranoid as the legal battles continued; battles that were draining his savings and wearing on his peace of mind. He alienated friends, broke up with his girlfriend, and became a recluse and pariah in Granby.
However, the narrative of Marv as a working class hero against wealthy, corrupt business owners is challenged by several facts. He was offered and agreed to a sale price of $250,000, nearly six times the value he purchased the property for, which he later recanted and jacked up to $375,000. This too was accepted by the town, but once again Marv reneged and demanded an absurd increase to $1 million. There was also the issue of Marv not adhering to town policy by not hooking his business up to a sewer line, which caused him to dump waste unsafely and resulted in substantial fines. It was believed by then that Marv was never interested in selling or cleaning up his property, and was the cause of his own problems, stubbornly holding onto a false identity as an oppressed blue collar worker held down by ruthless capitalists.
The third act of the film is equal parts absorbing and shocking, as Marv was determined to make one final act of defiance in life. He was a man of exceptional ability as a welder, and put his skill to frightening use after he bought a bulldozer. Over the course of about a year and a half, Marv outfitted this bulldozer with thick metal and concrete plates, completely covering the engine and driver compartment – there was no getting out of the beast once inside – and drove the juggernaut through Granby, demolishing a series of buildings that were specifically targeted, businesses and homes of those on the town council and rivals. As extreme as an action as it was, it’s hard not to marvel a bit at the engineering of the “MK Tank,” as it was dubbed by Marv. We are shown a mixture of real footage and dramaticized reenactments of just how unstoppable and destructive this machine was. It must have been a truly frightening experience for the residents of Granby that day.
Throughout the film, recordings of Marv’s audio journals play, giving us first hand insight into what he thought of the ongoing disputes and his descent into a hollow shell of himself driven by revenge. As the date of the rampage approaches, his thoughts became increasingly erratic, and he believed his path was chosen for him by God. His final entry, where he had fully accepted his path and chosen fate, is one that will stay with viewers long after the credits roll.
The actions of Heemeyer left a scar on Granby that residents still struggle to understand, but Solet does an admirable job bringing the events together and crafts one of the most engaging documentaries you will see this year. Because of this, Cryptic Rock gives Tread 4 out of 5 stars.