Murder to Mercy: The Cyntoia Brown Story gives away exactly what it’s about in the title. It’s all good. Plenty of true crime documentaries work even when you know the outcome. I won’t tell you exactly what happens in the end because I think it’s a worthy watch.
In this story, Cyntoia Brown is a teenage girl on trial for killing one of her clients. She claims she believed her life was in danger at the moment when the victim was allegedly reaching under the bed for what she believed was a gun. He had shown off a bunch of guns to her prior while boasting about what an important man he was in the town. Her version of events felt so authentic that the heart of the trial seems to come down to whether or not she was justified in the way she was thinking.
Cyntoia never denies killing the man. It’s similar to The State of Alabama vs. Brittany Smith. In that documentary, Brittany is sentenced for killing a man who raped her only hours earlier. When she killed her assailant, he had her brother in a chokehold.
Cyntoia faces a similar penalty in a moment where there was no actual crime committed against her just yet. Was her life in danger? Because she did steal from the victim, there is evidence everything was premeditated.
In the end, it doesn’t matter if she was right or wrong because in the years since she committed the murder, Cyntoia’s place in society has changed. She wasn’t legally a victim despite being a 16-year-old prostitute.
Why Murder to Mercy: The Cyntoia Brown Story is worth watching
This documentary takes us through several years of footage. In covering Cyntoia’s arrest, pre-trial moments, and checking in with her over the years, we see how the young woman has grown up behind bars. There is never much doubt about her place in the world. She never had much of a chance at becoming anything more than an object for men. It’s a terrible scenario for anyone to be in.
The more we learn about Cyntoia, the more the audience and justice system realizes a mistake may have been made. No 16-year-old girl would choose to go into the life she did.
Cyntoia stays positive throughout the ordeal. It’s hard to be as likable as she is with blood on your hands. She has true remorse. Murder to Mercy leads up to her plea for clemency from the Governor of Tennessee almost 20 years after her initial arrest.
Unlike The State of Alabama vs. Brittany Smith, Murder to Mercy delivers plenty of content about the case. Brittany’s documentary is far too short for the audience to feel truly present. Cyntoia gets lucky with filmmakers with the time and patience to present a more compelling documentary. Even if you don’t think Cyntoia was justified in killing the man, you have enough presented in front of you to have an opinion.
Murder to Mercy is about more than Cyntoia. Clearly a victim herself in the world of sex trafficking, the big message of the film is how she would’ve never been classified as a prostitute if her crime was committed today. The documentary could have been much more preachy about this issue. I think I prefer their simplistic approach.
She is a victim, yes. She also took the life of someone who may not have intended to do her any harm.
Overall Score: 8 out of 10
Nothing about Murder to Mercy will hang with the audience forever. It works on a smaller scale, attempting to understand the situation Cyntoia was in. Cursed with bad genetics and fetal alcohol syndrome, she never stood a chance. This is one of the more positive true crime documentaries you can watch. There’s no real spin on the issues it raises either. Cyntoia is guilty but exactly what is she guilty of?
A good true crime documentary will have you asking questions you never thought about previously. Murder to Mercy accomplishes this.
Leave a Reply