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Flashback: on 2001’s Murder on a Sunday Morning

Just a few words for this month’s Flashback feature, because I don’t find it necessary to get too descriptive for it. “Murder on a Sunday Morning” won the 2001 Best Documentary Feature Oscar, and it is an exhaustive and compelling watch. French director Jean-Xavier de Lestrade focuses has camera on the tale of 15 year-old Brenton Butler, an African-American teenager wrongly accused of murdering a Florida tourist. What struck me in visiting this documentary recently was how real life it seemed. Let’s face it, as much as I am fond of some of them, a good deal of our top documentaries have gotten pretty slick of late. It’s difficult to say if this style was ushered in by Errol Morris, or Davis Guggenheim, or Michael Moore—but it’s a noticeable trend. Just the basics for “Murder on a Sunday Morning” though, which gives it a very stark, fly-on-the-wall feel. It’s refreshing, and it contains a marvelous “performance” from defense attorney, Patrick McGuinness. Smoking, chubby, cocky and confident—he takes on the Jacksonville authorities, and handles them expertly. But this is not “Perry Mason” or “L.A. Law”—it will seem like you are watching Court T.V. You won’t be able to pry your eyes off of it during, and you’ll be hard-pressed to forget it after. The film’s subjects are imperfect people—just like you and me. Seek this one out—it’s a darn good yarn.     Grade:  A-

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