Review: Breathless outrage accompanies investigation of ‘A Murder in the Park’

Tabloid breathlessness meets advocacy outrage in the documentary “A Murder in the Park,” which revisits a 1982 Chicago double homicide and argues against a notorious death penalty reversal, a case that led Illinois’ then-Gov. George Ryan to commute all death row sentences.

Anthony Porter was convicted in 1983 of the late-night shooting deaths of two teenagers in Washington Park, but he was freed in 1999 after a reexamination of the case by Northwestern University journalism students under the tutelage of professor David Protess.

It’s the film’s contention, however, that Protess ignored and misrepresented evidence. His investigator focused on a different man, Alstory Simon, whose videotaped confession is convincingly presented by filmmakers Shawn Rech and Brandon Kimber as coerced.

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It’s a deliriously complicated case, one in which few people come out unscathed. The filmmakers relish tarnishing Protess, painted as ruthlessly manipulative in his quest to free inmates. (He declined to be interviewed.)

Rech and Kimber come from true-crime TV, and the propulsive artlessness of their reenactments, diagrams, interviews and archival footage editing is meant to boil the blood, not promote a clean narrative or flesh out issues. But whatever your feelings on capital punishment, “A Murder in the Park” has a gripping story to tell about, oddly enough, the corrosive effects of storytelling on the justice system when it gets the best of reasoned minds.


“A Murder in the Park”

MPAA rating: None

Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes

Playing: Sundance Sunset, Los Angeles