Thursday, January 19, 2017

Best of 2016: True Crime Documentaries

Reviewed by Diane M.,
Circulation/Technical Services clerk

This year, perhaps because I was so drawn into the dramatization of the O.J Simpson trial with American Crime Story: The People Versus O.J. Simpson, I found myself watching several other true crime stories. Several of the documentaries I watched were quite interesting.

Murder on a Sunday Morning was the 2001 Academy Award for Best Documentary. The film follows the story of Brenton Butler, who was a 15-year-old African American boy who was accused of the murder of Mary-Ann Stephens on May 7, 2000, outside her hotel in front of her husband. I enjoy courtroom dramas, and this documentary is a gripping inside look into the workings of the legal system. Patrick McGuiness is the public defender who is assigned to Brenton’s case, and he and his partner are dedicated to exposing the truth of it.

After enjoying this film, I realized that the same director--Jean-Xavier de Lestrade--had done a long-form documentary on the high–profile murder case of Michael Peterson, who was accused of killing his wife. The Staircase unfolds over the course of eight episodes; it is fascinating to see the filmmakers get access to the accused. The crew was inside the Peterson house and inside the courtroom, and I felt like I was getting a first-hand look at all of the twists and turns that happened along the way. I felt like I was getting to know this man, who seems so nice and personable. Could this family man really be a cold-blooded killer?

Lastly, another long-form documentary that I found fascinating is the more recently produced The Jinx. This is a stranger-than-fiction look into the life and crimes of the very wealthy Robert Durst. Interestingly, I had years ago watched a dramatization on Robert Durst called All Good Things, which had a great cast (Ryan Gosling, Kirsten Dunst), but I did not find it interesting. The Jinx, however, is a six-part documentary by Andrew Jarecki that I found gripping. Again, like in The Staircase, the filmmaker was given complete access to the subject and as the twists and turns unravel (Durst is a suspect in three separate killings during his lifetime) I found myself binge-watching the entire documentary.

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