(Explanation of The Oscars Project found here. And need I say it? This post contains SPOILERS.)
So here I am at the end of Day 2 of what has turned into THREE days off from school. That's right, I'll be suffering from cabin fever Friday as well. (Not really--the roads are pretty clear now and my mom offered to pick me up so nobody steals my well-cleared space. In spite of some pointed memos posted around the building by management.)
But that's not what you came to hear about. Let's get down to cinematic business.
From 2001: Murder on a Sunday Morning
Today I watched (with a intermission of shoveling) Murder on a Sunday Morning, the winner of the Academy Award for Best Documentary (Feature) that follows the workings of the law from the arrival of the police at the scene of a murder all the way to the aftermath of the trial of the murder suspect. The movie opens in early May 2000, on a Sunday, at a murder scene at a hotel. (Pretty graphic shot of the victim's body on the ground.) An older couple visiting Jacksonville, Florida was accosted by a robber as they were returning to their hotel room after breakfast. The wife gave the robber her purse, but the robber shot her before fleeing.
The only witness is the shellshocked husband, and he has identified as the murderer a local fifteen year old boy, Brenton, who was picked up by the police as he was walking down the street to go fill out an application for a job at the local video store.
Did this kid do it?
The area is heavily dependent on tourism. The victim was white. Brenton is black.
If he didn't do it, does he have a chance of being acquitted?
"Enter defense attorney Patrick McGuinness, a stocky Irishman who loves a good fight and takes it personally when" the police seem to have fallen down on the job (p. 20). As the trial goes forward, we get to know how McGuinness and his colleague Ann Finnell work, how they investigate what happened during the murder and during Brenton's identification and questioning, and how they plan to create reasonable doubt. . . starting with a confession signed but not written by their client, who has welts on his face and abdomen the first time someone from their team meets him post-confession.
This compelling story rolls along in a manner akin to something you'd see on Law & Order or 48 Hours, but it's true. Even though it actually is less dramatic than those highly polished TV shows, its rawness and transparency makes it all the more interesting. There's racism (including a few appearances of the n-word), nepotism (the detective known for extracting confessions happens to be the son of the Sheriff), and possible corner-cutting of investigative process/lying on the witness stand. But there's also a supportive family, an encouraging pastor and congregation, not to mention a very thoughtful defense team--something often not expected from the public defender's office (as Finnell says during an interview included in the extra material).
The point of the documentary is not to show how Brenton is acquitted--as Finnell states, this is an "ordinary case" for the public defenders, although to be fair there's quite a development at the end--but to give a perspective on the legal system in the United States and raise a few questions about all the people involved in the investigation and trial of crimes, be they witnesses, detectives, prosecutors, defenders, suspects, jurors, bystanders.
This the movie I've liked the best so far, and I highly recommend it. You might have seen or heard about it if (unlike me) you had HBO nearly ten years ago--they were involved in its production. I borrowed the copy I watched from my library, so check your local library's catalog.
And now. . . I have written names on small pieces of paper and placed them in a never-used water bottle I received as swag from my old work (hey, it's a nalgene!). A few shakes of the bottle to mix things up, and now I'm going to take the lid off and choose a paper.
The winner is Dave E.!!! Congrats and e-mail me about where to send your prize. Thanks to all the other commenters for playing.
Next up: Seabiscuit