TV Review: Making a Murderer
Plot: Filmed over a 10-year period, Making a Murderer is an unprecedented real-life thriller about a DNA exoneree who, while in the midst of exposing corruption in local law enforcement, finds himself the prime suspect in a grisly new crime. Set in America's heartland, the series takes viewers inside a high-stakes criminal case where reputation is everything and things are never as they appear.
Review: True crime stories have long been a staple of our culture in the form of magazines, books, television shows, and films. There is an innate fascination in us to discover and learn about horrible crimes committed near and far and throughout history. WIth the advent of cable television, true crime has spawned entire networks of twenty-four hour programming which has diluted the material to cull stories from. But, just in the last few years we have seen a resurgence in long-form true crime series ranging from the podcast Serial to HBO's haunting and powerful The Jinx. Now, Netflix has joined the fray with their own ten hour documentary, Making a Murderer. While the story echoes the series mentioned above, it is a very distinct story that will also intrigue fans of True Detective and Fargo.
With both Serial and The Jinx holding real life implications for the legal proceedings involving their subjects, Making a Murderer is in a very unique position. Filmmakers Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos began investigating the rape case against Steven Avery over a decade after his wrongful imprisonment. The first hour of this documentary delves into what led to Allen finding himself the chief suspect and eventual guilty party. The events take place in a small town in Wisconsin but as the story unravels, we begin to see signs of police corruption, collusion, and family feuds that may have put the wrong person in jail. That is enough to make Steven Avery's story a fascinating subject for a film, but it is what comes next that sets Making a Murderer apart from similar documentaries.
In the second and third hours of the documentary, we find Avery implicated in another crime, this one far more heinous, that returns him to jail. The directors were already chronicling the triumphant release of Steven Avery only to find themselves documenting first-hand the next accusation to rock his family. Rarely are films like this made as the events are unfolding, but the immediacy of this gives the film a much stronger impact. I was cautious as to whether or not there was enough material to make this story binge-worthy, but there are so many twists and turns taking in the first four hours made available for review that I have no doubt that people will be tuning in to the entire ten episode span over the first days of release.
Directors Ricciardi and Demos avoid involvement in the subject of the documentary and are never seen or heard on screen. Instead, we see archival news footage interspersed with new interviews with family, friends, and law enforcement involved in both the 1985 and 2005 crimes and trials of Steven Avery. By using the voices and faces of those involved in the events, Making a Murderer unfolds more narratively than either Serial or The Jinx which provided narration from the documentarians themselves. Making a Murderer never imbues the viewer with the feeling that Avery is either guilty or innocent, instead allowing us to play amateur detective based on the evidence to draw our own conclusions. And there is a lot of evidence here to sift through. I found myself going back and forth as I watched this series, unable to always adamantly feel whether Steven Avery did what he was accused of or if he was framed by the police.
Each episode of Making a Murderer unfolds as a self-standing hour, building on the events of the segments that came before. The editing and structure of the story is purposeful and deliberate, pacing the tale of Steven Avery's early life and first stint in prison over the first episode with the second spent examining his release and the repercussions of what that meant for the local law enforcement and the American justice system as a whole. But, at the end of the second hour the series takes a dramatic turn regarding Avery's second supposed crime. I would highly recommend that you do not search for information about Avery's crimes online and allow the events to unfold as you will no doubt be glued to what is revealed.
Netflix has found a winning story here that has all of the elements of a great thriller. The crimes here are horrific and yet we are not subjected to grisly crime photos or reenactments. Instead, the vast amount of interviews, interrogation footage, phone calls, and photographs paint a picture that does more than blood and guts ever could. This is a story that is too bizarre not to be true and will have you picking your jaw up off the floor trying to wrap your mind around how things like this could ever happen. You will find yourself drawn into the small-town world of Manitowoc, Wisconsin the same way we found ourselves drawn into the seemingly normal world of Luverne, Minneosta in Fargo. But, like Fargo, things are not always what they seem. The difference here is that Making a Murder is a true story and one that will stick with you long after you finish watching it.
Netflix has released the first episode of Making a Murderer free for everyone on YouTube. Check it out below.