It’s the Netflix show everyone is talking about, and for good reason... I don’t think I’ve ever shouted at a tv show so much, or got so passionately involved in a documentary before - watching the show has been a real eye opening journey into the world of the morality, ethics and justice.
So some background: The show was filmed over ten years and documents the case and trials of Steven Avery and his nephew Brendan Dassey in regards to a murder charge. However, Steven had previously been falsely convicted of a rape charge for 18 years and this fact casts a shadow over him before the murder trial evidence has even it the courtroom.
The show itself uses its documentary format to impeccably to slowly drip feed the audience an absorbing mystery with many dynamic twists. The storytelling is enthralling, with many episodes ending with bombshells of pivotal information that make accidentally watching the next episode so easy...
The focus is on the defence side of the case, Steven’s family and his lawyers are at the heart of the shows interviews and storytelling and across the 10 episodes we really get to know their lives quite intimately. This contrasts with the stark black and white of the law in the courtroom and makes the judgements in the case seem even more inhumane. Although focusing on the defence does present a slightly skewed view on the trials, the prosecutions arguments are still hotly debated and presented with almost an equal amount of screen time.
What really makes Making of a Murderer so gripping is the amount of first hand evidence they use - phone conversations from prison are used to hear Stephen’s take on the court proceedings, evidence photos and reports are shown, typed transcripts and key pieces of evidence are presented to us on screen, tv news bulletins from the case days are used to present verdicts to the audience for the first time (similar to how the public would’ve found out information at the time) and the film crew goes to the actual locations discussed in court to make the documentary a very immersive experience.
Stephen’s lawyers Jerry and Dean provide confident and enlightening insights to the case and are genuine, likeable guys who inject some warmth into the cold subject matter of the cases. They provide nurture and guidance for the Avery family and also conduct themselves in a professional and intelligent manner that only consolidates the humanity of their actions during the trial. I found their comments and concerns (and that of their investigators too) the most interesting and insightful of the entire show. I can certainly see why they are fan favourites!
Without giving too much away, there are many shocks and surprises throughout the collection of evidence, court cases and even the aftermath of the trials that make you feel sick to your stomach. There is no such thing as a perfect system, but The American Law and Justice system appears to have a few gaping holes and the handling of the Stephen Avery cases is downright heartbreaking, whether or not you believe he is guilty.
As the film makers constantly remind you, right up to the final shot of the series, the series is a documentary, this is about real people and real lives. The reality of the trials becomes more shocking when we go forwards in time to the present day and see the consequences of everything that has happened to Stephen, Brendan and their families. It was perhaps the final episode that it really hit home for me how many lives had been dramatically altered by the Avery trials, as well as how many other people are living out similar sentences in America. It’s enough to make you quite emotional about the way we treat those convicted of crimes in this world.
If this documentary does nothing else, it reminds you that the law and the truth are two very different things, which can cost people everything they are.