On the one hand, this documentary is terrible. The direction is cheesy, with overly dramatic shots of lawyers walking down hallways inserted randomly to break up the monotony of shots of witnesses in a court room. The soundtrack is terrible - it doesn’t fit the movie and it is overused. It is noticeable how little effort is made to be even handed – all of the defense team is interviewed, but none of the prosecution of their witnesses – which doesn’t invalidate any of the claims that are made in the movie, but does raise obvious questions about what we are not being told.
On the other hand, this is an amazing story and one that deserves to be broadcast. A tourist was shot outside her hotel room. The cops had no leads and no evidence, so they just found a fifteen year old black man who was walking near the crime scene a few hours later and accused him of murdering her even though he had an alibi and didn’t match the description of the man they were looking for. The cops never interviewed anyone else, never investigated how he got the gun, and never found any physical evidence to link him to the crime. This young man spends the next six months of his life in jail awaiting a trial that could potentially put him in jail for life. That’s a helluva story!
The conflict between the content and the execution of this film is so frustrating. Issues of race and justice have been so important to the way that America evolved in the last half of the 20th century that a story with this much force could have really said something about who we are as a people. Unfortunately this movie has such tunnel vision on this one case that it doesn’t offer any broader examples even about the city in Florida where it takes place. Because it doesn’t ever talk to the police officers who worked the case, or to civil rights groups who might have watched the case, it comes out feeling context free.
If this film had been directed with even a little bit of style, it would be an all time classic. As it is, however, it doesn’t live up to it’s potential at all.