Have you watched Netflix’s “Making A Murderer”? Sure you have, or you’re about to, or you’re part of the way through. No, wait – scratch that. Nobody’s ‘part of the way through’ “Making A Murderer”. You’re either binge watching it, or you’ve finished it and are still trying to pick your jaw up off the floor.
Netflix have struck original programming gold again, and this time it’s fact, not fiction that has subscribers promising themselves ‘just one more episode’ before they sleep/ work/ eat/ bathe/ interact with another human being.
The ten part documentary series tells the true story of Steven Avery, a native of Manitowoc, Wisconsin who was imprisoned for eighteen years for a crime he did not commit only to be eventually released and almost immediately implicated, charged and tried for murder while continually maintaining his innocence.
Filmed over the course of ten years, as events unfolded, “Making A Murderer” benefits from the same sense of authenticity that the long-form filming imbued “Boyhood” with but this is no gentle coming of age drama. It’s a unremittingly gripping, endlessly fascinating and masterfully curated story of the prosecution of a crime riddled with inconsistencies, allegations of corruption and crooked practices and some breath-taking twists, turns and outcomes.
Until you’ve started watching it, it’s hard to really understand just how utterly compelling the story is. It has everything you could want from a courtroom drama – a terrible crime, a questionable accused, family loyalty, betrayals, noble lawyers, slimy prosecutors, crooked cops, shady investigators, red herrings, overlooked potential suspects, contradictory evidence and utterly contemptible villains. Oh, and the victim, who – tellingly – doesn’t occupy much of the documentary because she, Teresa Halbach, didn’t seem to concern the prosecution anywhere near as much as nailing Steven Avery for the crime did.
Responsible for creating a legion of armchair detectives and couch-based criminal justice experts, the very nature of the events being presented remind you that the perception of the facts can easily be manipulated by skilful and wilful selectivity. Do I believe Steven Avery is guilty? Whether I do or not (I’m not declaring for fear of spoilers), the opinion I formed was based on the evidence I was presented with. And even while watching and – occasionally – yelling at the TV, I was aware that what I was being presented with was selected for me by the documentary makers, Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi. Both in subject and in execution, “Making A Murderer” demonstrates just how powerfully facts and opinions can be manipulated and manufactured. Absolute truth is an impossibility as we’re allowed to see a broken system through a fractured lens.
A quick Google search of the case (absolutely forbidden while we were watching!) brings up a few aspects which were omitted from the documentary, throwing additional light on some facets of the case but I understand the need to do that. The documentary is ten hours long, covering a trial which ran for weeks and events which covered years. In saying that, even after reading up on the available details of the case, there doesn’t seem to be too much that was left out, and nothing I’ve heard or read since watching it has swayed my own verdict, suggesting the documentary filmmakers got the balance just about right.
“Making A Murderer” is fantastic, engrossing entertainment – and it is first and foremost an entertainment product – but like the best entertainment, it raises important issues in a thought-provoking and fascinating way. It’s unique intensity comes from the fact it not only deals with a true story but one that is still going on to this day and the dangers of the abuse of power and procedure by the authorities and institutions involved have ramifications far beyond the limits of this one fascinating case.