‘The Innocence Files’ review: Netflix’s shocking true-crime drama on the horror behind wrongful convictions

‘The Innocence Files’: The fight to free wrongfully-convicted people

‘The Innocence Files’: The fight to free wrongfully-convicted people  

The docuseries follows the devastating stories of eight innocent men and their families, who were wrongly convicted by the criminal justice system in America

Levon Brooks was in his twenties when he was accused of rape and murder of a three-year-old African American girl in Noxubee County, Mississippi. He was incarcerated for 18 years, while the real culprit roamed around the County, finally committing a strikingly similar crime on another toddler from the same locality. Had the real perpetrator been imprisoned the first time, the second victim would still be alive. A lot happens in the span of 18 years. One’s youth passes by, perceptions change... and what about the time lost behind bars following a wrongful conviction? Families crumble and heartbreaking personal stories follow. Levon had only 10 years to live after he was exonerated: “It isn’t fair,” Peter Neufield, co-founder of New York-based Innocence Project, says from the site of his funeral.

Seveal such stories lurk in the dusty creases of many case files; the American criminal justice system is not without its flaws and fair share of corruption and callousness.

After the success of Tiger King which was also in the true crime genre, Netflix’s latest docu-series The Innocence Files, trails such stories by giving a glimpse into how New York-based not-for-profit organisation, The Innocent Project operates. The organisation, founded by lawyers Barry Scheck and Peter Neufield (who one gets to see very often in the show) in 1992, works to overturn false convictions. Their argument: “It’s the whole profession; it’s the whole system; it’s the whole methodology. It’s all junk.”

‘The Innocence Files’: One of Netflix’s most important true-crime dramas

‘The Innocence Files’: One of Netflix’s most important true-crime dramas  

The series, shot in a documentary style that grows on one after maybe half an episode, takes on a case-by-case approach while looking into different factors that could possibly lead to a false conviction. And each of these cases unfold as narratives in front of the audience, replete with personal stories that give them a shade of reality. Audio recordings, interview clippings, interrogation records, photographs from crime scenes, recorded testimonies and videos of court trials, are all meticulously woven into the narrative.

The Innocence Files
  • Genre: True-crime/ drama
  • Seasons: 1
  • No. of episodes: 9
  • Plot: The personal stories of eight innocent men who wrongly convicted by the criminal justice system in America

Three possible causes for wrongful incarceration — misused forensic evidence (lending a closer look to consistencies in ‘bite mark’ evidence) ; false eyewitness testimonies and misconduct in prosecution — seem to be what the series focuses on in three sections that make for nine episodes. The first three, directed by Roger Ross Williams, sets a solid precedent to what follows, in terms of how the narrative effortlessly marries the present with glimpses from the past: a result of extensive research.

Though the introductory sequences aided the possibility of it turning out to be a one-sided tale, spoken only from The Innocence Project’s point of view, it quickly turned around to show a more balanced front. The forensic odontologist whose expert consultations had led to six known wrongful convictions in the State of Mississippi, Dr Micheal West, at one point proclaims rather dramatically, that bite mark analysis can’t go wrong. In the initial few episodes, his opinions have been weighed in equally. But it is in human nature to see a villian in every story: Forest Allgood (the District Attorney who was appointed to take up both the murder cases) and Dr West, then, become typical villains for the audience, in the first section.

The series largely stays off gory details and stomach-turning images, but the fact that such heinous crimes are very real, might be irksome for the weak-hearted. But-true crime/crime enthusiasts can plunge right in, without giving it a second thought.

It may not be a Mindhunter for sure, but it does leave one with lingering thoughts. Some of the personal stories (that are mostly recreated for dramatisation in the show) are devastating, to say the least. For others who might not be as interested in true crime, The Innocence Files at least provides an insight into the loopholes in a system that plays with people's lives: in that sense, it is quite informative.

The Innocence Files is currently streaming on Netflix


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Printable version | Jul 3, 2020 4:35:12 PM |

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