Review: ‘Captivated’ revisits the Pamela Smart trial, to mixed results

‘Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart’
A scene from the movie “Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart by Jeremiah Zagar.”
(Sundance Institute )

The specifics of the decades-old case of convicted murder accomplice Pamela Smart now seem far less interesting than Smart’s sensationalized trial, which became the first to be televised gavel-to-gavel. This relentless exposure dubiously paved the way for the media circuses that accompanied criminal proceedings against O.J. Simpson, Casey Anthony, Oscar Pistorius and so many others.

Unfortunately, the documentary “Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart,” briefly in theaters ahead of its HBO premiere Monday, spends too much time revisiting and relitigating how, in 1990, former high school staffer Smart was accused of conspiring, along with her teenage lover and three of his sketchy young friends, to kill her unfaithful husband.

Although the boys, including the one who physically committed the murder, plea-bargained their way to shortened jail terms, Smart was sentenced to life in prison, without parole. Did the unprecedented media frenzy surrounding the case prevent the possibility of a fair trial? There’s no conclusive answer, of course. But to this day, Smart, seen here in a recent interview, maintains her innocence, despite the presence of highly incriminating audio tapes from the time of the murder.

Breaking up the film’s often repetitive narrative is a vital and articulate group of attorneys, law enforcers, academics and journalists who comment on various facets of the trial. Also featured are author Joyce Maynard, whose Smart-inspired novel, “To Die For,” was adapted into a 1995 feature film starring Nicole Kidman, and Joyce Chopra, who directed a 1991 CBS telefilm about the case.


Clips from those two movies, bits from the many TV talk shows and news programs that covered the crime, plus extensive footage of the televised trial itself, round out director Jeremiah Zagar’s well-crafted but frankly nonessential documentary.

“Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart.”

No MPAA rating.

Running time: 1 hours, 39 minutes.


At Laemmle’s Playhouse 7, Pasadena.

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