True Crime Documentary A Murder in the Park is a Social Justice Warrior’s Nightmare

I didn’t know what I was getting into when I watched A Murder in the Park. I was pleasantly surprised because this true crime documentary seems to be over after about ten minutes only to take a great big turn against social justice warriors, snooty college kids, and professors who think they know better than everyone else.

Anthony Porter has been released from prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Or did he? Students at Northwestern University may have inadvertently followed their professor into a battle against the death penalty and put an innocent man, Alstory Simon, behind bars while letting the real killer go.

What was good about A Murder in the Park

Did that above description not entice you to stop reading and watch this already? The professor, David Protess, comes off as one of the more pompous characters in a true crime documentary even with very little screen time. The descriptions of how he accused Simon of the titular murder(s) in the park has him coming across horribly.

This film came out before the true crime boom in more recent years. A 2014 feature, it takes a simple approach to telling the story of Simon and Porter (that sounds like a book publishing company or a folk band from the 1960s) and which one of them is truly guilty.

We actually don’t hear much from either accused. This documentary relies more on investigators and the insults they hurl at Protess for leading his students down the wrong path. It’s actually amazing how the justice system fumbles this entire case and goes as far as to release the true murderer and then convict the wrong person.

What could have made A Murder in the Park better

This film was way too rushed. If it was made today, this story would be told in three or four parts instead of as a single film. There would’ve been episodes ending in major twists. We would’ve had journalists looking back and mocking the prosecution.

A Murder in the Park is a well-conceived documentary missing those bold interviews with the two men accused of this crime. We see them a little bit on camera, but not nearly enough. The approach The Thin Blue Line took could have made this a very different documentary. Letting Simon and Porter lead us through the narrative with jumps away to others sets a darker and more lost tone. 

I love a good true crime documentary where we got behind bars. The sense of helplessness gets the message across more. In this one, it was obvious what the end result was going to be.

Is A Murder in the Park worth watching?

Yeah, this wasn’t bad. I’ve already forgotten a lot of the smaller details about it only a few weeks after watching. The smartest thing they did was get right into the “Wait, WTF?” factor of this case. It’s not a long film. I’m just not quite sure it tackles all of the issues brought up.

Overall Score: 7 out of 10

This one might take a second viewing to fully appreciate. With most true crime documentaries, it’s easy to understand what to expect. This one follows its own pattern. Already nearly 10 years old, it came prior to the true crime documentary boom. It’s a case worth re-hashing alongside some other similar ones in a future documentary.

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