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Review: ‘Dream/Killer’ a nightmare in tone

There’s outrage to spare in “Dream/Killer,” an injustice documentary from filmmaker Andrew Jenks. A few years after the 2001 murder of a Columbia, Mo., sports editor, a clean-cut 19-year-old named Ryan Ferguson was fingered by an eyewitness, who claimed he saw the crime in a dream. Without any physical evidence, Ferguson was convicted and sentenced to 40 years in prison.

But in piecing together — thanks to archived interrogation and trial video — a genuinely awful story of bad cops, corrupt prosecution, incompetent defense and an appeals process marred by the blind upholding of convictions, Jenks never stirs you to consider how or why any of this happens. (It’s not racism, since everyone in the story is white.)

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Tonally, the film is a mess, unable to decide if it’s a damning downer or — considering the strangely light tone of the interviews with Ferguson’s crusading dad, Bill, and hotshot wrongful-conviction defense lawyer Kathleen Zellner — the inspiring story of conquering injustice. The interlude with honeymoon/travel photos of Ryan’s world-traveling parents, how Ryan made “prison pizza,” and the jaunty tone depicting the dad’s social media campaign (including a “Free Ryan” car with a branded slogan on it), seem especially out of place if indignation is the goal.

The unluckiness of it all, and the ending, seems to throw Jenks, leaving “Dream/killer” playing like a bad dream, rather than the byproduct of a broken system that, as headlines remind us, targets many.

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“Dream/killer”

No MPAA rating

Running time: 1 hour, 49 minutes

Playing at the Ahrya Fine Arts, Beverly Hills


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