William Friedkin’s “The People vs. Paul Crump”

Pretentious early documentary from the great William Friedkin. Attempts to portray the problems around the case of Paul Crump, a black man waiting on death row, convicted of murder, using testimonies of people involved with the case (either supporting Crump’s innocence or speaking against the death sentence) as basis for recreations of the actions that led to the conviction.

These flashbacks, a big part of the movie, may be the main problem with this, while surprisingly well crafted, they don’t really serve any function, only as redundant illustrations of what is said in the interviews. Friedkin may have had the intention of investigating the case, but that certainly does not appear on the screen, we only see snapshots approaching the main issues (the legal system, the necessity or ethics regarding the death sentence, police brutality, institutional racism, rehabilitation), it is just vaguely descriptive, and with the staged scenes (besides the incomprehensible focus on the journalist, all of a sudden) only distracting from whatever truth could come out by simply observing the people involved, but there’s one particular shot that is an exception, the unedited monologue by Crump, and it’s probably the only moment in the whole movie where it seems to find the truth it seeks about the situation. It ends up being both ineffective as a crime picture with a message and insufficient as the provocative documentary it wants to be.

Some of Friedkin’s preferred themes and stylistic tendencies are already present, but it lacks any of the depth. His 1992 thriller Rampage would revisit a good part of this and not show much improvement, although the free manipulation of a fictional narrative allows him to be a little bit more insightful both in the trial, the circunstances and impact of the crimes on society in general, but his thing just isn’t straight political filmmaking.

Christofer Pallú

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