A review of the documentary film, “A Murder in the Park,” which takes an unsettling look at a notorious 1982 murder case and overturned conviction. Rating: 2.5 stars out of 4.
On a hot night during the summer of 1982, in Chicago’s Washington Park, a tragedy unfolded: Teen couple Marilyn Green and Jerry Hillard, relaxing in the park, were shot and killed. Anthony Porter was convicted and sentenced to death for the crime in 1983 — but, in 1998, a professor and a group of students at Northwestern University reinvestigated the case and identified a new perpetrator, Alstory Simon, who later confessed. Porter, freed and exonerated, was filmed exuberantly hugging the professor and students; Simon was imprisoned.
An inspiring story of innocence prevailing? Look again. That’s what the crime documentary “A Murder in the Park” has us do, and the result is unsettling: Directors Shawn Rech and Brandon Kimber meticulously step us through the case, leaving us questioning the motives of the Northwestern group and wondering whether the right man was originally convicted after all. The case, which helped bring an end to the death penalty in Illinois, is troubling in its details. Porter’s student defenders, whose court testimony is excerpted, seem naive; Simon’s identification and confession, as presented, suggest entrapment.
Rech and Kimber won’t get any points for artfulness here; the film’s crammed full of awkward, endless re-enactments, and a few of the crime-scene photographs shown are in questionable taste. And I found myself wishing that they’d taken a moment to let us get to know the victims as the young people that they were, rather than a pair of corpses. Nonetheless, “A Murder in the Park,” with a whopper of a twist near the end, is often mesmerizing, even as its story remains unfinished. Justice, in this case, seems to remain elusive.
Movie Review ★★½
‘A Murder in the Park,’ a documentary directed by Shawn Rech and Brandon Kimber. 93 minutes. Rated PG-13 for disturbing crime scene photos and re-enactments, drug material and brief language. Sundance (21+).