Review: “Scenes of a Crime”

Though I was unable to attend the 2011 Full Frame Documentary Festival this week as planned, partly due to my accreditation being through Cinematical/Moviefone, for which I no longer work, I was able to see this one selection from the program and so am reviewing it as a single piece of Full Frame coverage.

We’ve all seen enough cop shows and legal dramas to have in our head an idea of what police interrogations look like. But those fictions aren’t anything like the reality presented in Blue Hadaegh and Grover Babcock’s “Scenes of a Crime.” The documentary involves a case of possible infanticide in which two detectives interview a man for ten hours regarding the death of his four-month-old son. Along with excerpts from the video footage of that lengthy examination, the film also presents parts of an interrogation training video and testimonials from the policemen about how they conducted the proceedings and lawyers and expert witnesses commenting on those proceedings. Did the men force a confession out of an innocent person? If so, does such injustice happen often? Those are the main questions the doc asks, and as with other works of its kind it will frustrate, infuriate and/or provoke a lot of discussion.

It takes a lot more than raising familiar doubts about police and judicial practices, however, to make a good documentary. Hadaegh and Babcock (“A Certain Kind of Death”) also construct the story of their film’s case similar to the best of them. While it doesn’t have all the strengths of masterpieces like “The Thin Blue Line” or “The Staircase,” mostly because the case itself isn’t as deep, “Scenes of a Crime” guides us through a narrative in an engaging way, the sort of manner in which developments are revealed to us late in the film that make us, as they did the investigators, rethink what might have happened. I don’t want to call a film like this “edge-of-your-seat entertainment,” of course, but it does what any good court drama or doc does in that it keeps us enough in the dark that we can’t wait to find out the outcome of the trial. Even if we have an expectation, probably one born out of cynicism, what the verdict will be.

To read the rest of this review, head over to Spout.com

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About Christopher Campbell
I am a blogger for Documentary Channel and Movies.com, where I write the Doc Talk column. I prefer real stories to fake ones. I tweet here: @thefilmcynic

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