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Gripping documentary exposing shocking bias (if not racism)
"Who Killed Garrett Phillips?" (2019 release; in 2 parts; 185 min.) is a documentary about the death if a 12 yr. boy in Potsdam, NY on October 24, 2011. As the movie opens, it is "Summer, 2010", and several neighbors talk about the 12 yr. old boy, his brother and his single mom moving into the apartment building, keeping to themselves. Then on that fateful day in 2011, the neighbors hear some noises next door, including a cry for "no!" and "help". One of the neighbors calls 911, and within minutes, the police is there. But no-one answers the door... At this point we are 10 min. into the documentary.
Couple of comments: this is the latest documentary from producer-director Liz Garbus, a well-respected and award winning documentarion whose previous work includes "Bobby Fisher Against the World" and "There's Something Wrong With Aunt Diane", among many others. Here she brings the true crime story of the mysterious death (by strangulation) of 12 yr. old Garrett, and the subsequent investigation of a black man (who happens to have dated the boy's mom in the previous year), to the exclusion of other options or possibilities, and despite the scant evidence. It is, frankly, shocking to see it all develop and play out. Part 1 (80 min.) looks at the investigation, and Part 2 (105 min.) zeroes in at the eventual trial and its aftermath. Potsdam's local police and district attorneys (yes, plural) come out bruised and battered in this documentary, and have no-one but themselves to blame for that. If it wasn't for the actual footage that we watch, it wouldn't be believable. Check out the scene in part 1, where the suspect is tricked into coming to the police station, and then is prevented (in multiple ways and with a slew of lies and tricks) from leaving for 8 hours, even though he is "not under arrest". The underlying bias (if not racism) to focus almost exclusively on this suspect is obvious to all. Meanwhile, the director gives each side prominent screen time to explain what happened, and amazingly the local police and prosecuting team all do it with a straight face. For shame. If you are worried that the documentary's running time of just over 3 hours seems a bit long, let me reassure you that it is not too long, and in fact these 3 hours flew by in no time (for me anyway). Yes, there is that much ground to cover.
"Who Killed Garrett Phillips?" premiered this week on HBO (and is now available at HBO On Demand), as part of HBO's excellent summer series of true crime documentaries. If you love a good documentary or true crime stories, I'd readily suggest you check this out, be it on VOD or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
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