After Innocence doesn’t inspire much confidence in the American legal system, detailing the stories of seven men who, convicted and jailed for crimes they didn’t commit, were freed thanks to the DNA-aided efforts of the non-profit Innocence Project and its crusading counterparts. Focusing on a handful of what the Innocence Project—founded in the early ‘90s by Barry Scheck (an O.J. Simpson defense team alum) and Peter Neufeld—claims are tens of thousands of wrongful incarceration cases, Jessica Sanders’s outraged documentary follows a cross-section of Caucasian and African-American men as they attempt to reenter society and rebuild lives while coming to grips with the monumental resentment and fury born from being innocent prisoners for (in some instances) 20-plus years. Given little to no financial assistance after their release (unlike, illogically, those on parole), and with records still besmirched by rape and murder convictions, the men constitute a wounded group who feel—as articulated by Scott Hornoff, a cop put away for six-and-a-half years for first-degree murder—like ghosts in their own lives, uneasily operating in communities now foreign to them and with friends and family who have radically changed during their time behind bars. After Innocence smoothly links its stories’ shared details involving rabid prosecutors and judges, inept public defenders, and crucial eyewitness evidence that subsequently turned out to be flawed, the latter of which the film argues is the cause of 88% of all erroneous imprisonment cases. Its heartrending tales of justice-gone-awry, however, are partially sabotaged by Sanders’s vexing lack of focus. Many of its exonerated subjects, such as Nick Yarris (who spent 23 years in solitary confinement on death row for murder, rape, and abduction), or Vincent Moto (who endured 10-and-a-half years in jail for rape and robbery), would be superb candidates for their own films about the shoddy state of our inefficient legal system. Yet by trying to adequately tackle seven different portraits during its 95-minute running time, the documentary—which, in its final third, begins to seem like an extended promotional piece for the Innocence Project—also feels cursory and thin, its emotional wallop somewhat softened by a misguided decision to work on a broad, rather than intimate, canvas.
- New Yorker Films
- 95 min
- Jessica Sanders
- Jessica Sanders, Marc H. Simon
- Herman Atkins, Wilton Dedge, Scott Hornoff, Dennis Maher, Vincent Moto, Calvin Willis, Nick Yarris, Ronald Cotton, Barry Scheck, Peter Neufeld, Phil Donahue
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