Monday, May 1, 2017

Casting JonBenet Review

I want to be upfront with a warning regarding viewing the new Netflix original documentary Casting JonBenet: it takes some time before you can really make sense of what the picture is trying to do, and I'm sure many will still be left cold even after it ends because the film doesn't provide a single answer. It's not looking for answers. I have seen some clickbait headlines about how the film presents a new theory on the murder of young JonBenet Ramsey, it doesn't and director Kitty Green never sought out to solve the notorious cold case. What she does do is focus her microscope on a very specific and well known case to explore bias and obsession with such cases, and the way the film is structured makes for a fascinating watch.

Casting JonBenet is presented as a series of interviews, which normally would scare me off a bit with a documentary because I have grown a tad weary of the talking heads telling a story that lacks footage of its own style, but what transpires her is different because Green is reliant on this method to make a statement. The subjects being interviewed are under the impression they are auditioning for a role in a new film based on the JonBenet Ramsey story, each person there to try to play a member of the family or a key other piece to the puzzle, one that has never and unfortunately may never be solved. Each subject in Casting JonBenet is a resident of the Boulder, Colorado area that the murder occurred in, many of them residing nearby when it happened and the perspective they share along with their deep rooted beliefs on what happened that night prove to be illuminating as to how each person sees things differently and form bias in their own way.

The surprise of these interviews is that through discussing the case and the way each person sees it, some of the subjects end up opening up about their own tragedies and traumatic experiences, as if trying to fill the shoes of a member of the Ramsey family has created an almost therapeutic channel for the pain they either push down or bottle up. From a woman reliving her own molestation to another who experienced the murder of her brother when she was a child, a man who was once briefly suspected of foul play after the unexpected death of his girlfriend before the evidence cleared him, these people aren't merely looking into a camera trying to win a part, they are looking into a mirror and exposing how each can relate to what happened to JonBenet Ramsey on the night of December 25th, 1996.

Kitty Green isn't looking for the truth, she's looking to dissect the concept of truth and the way we form our own opinions and conclusions. As a result she has crafted a terrific documentary.


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