Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.
USA, 2013. HBO Documentary Films, Motto Pictures, Trilogy Films. Screenplay by Matthew Hamachek, Dawn Porter. Cinematography by Chris Hilleke. Produced by Julie Goldman, Dawn Porter. Music by Paul Brill. Film Editing by Matthew Hamachek. Independent Spirit Awards 2013.
Public defenders have been a federal right for anyone brought to trial ever since the 1963 case of Clarence Earl Gideon, who was arrested for petty thievery and received a harsh sentence due to his inability to pay for a lawyer. Today, there are thousands of public defenders around the country who work countless hours for little pay and less glory, juggling the multitude cases on their docket that require their personal attention. This riveting documentary focuses on three of them, rightfully making heroes out of people who work the court systems in southern states in the hopes of getting the best possible outcomes for the mostly economically underprivileged defendants they are assigned. The stress is always on a fair trial regardless of whether or not the client is possibly innocent or undeniably guilty, and what many of these lawyers end up being in the latter situation is counsellors for young adults who have made bad decisions with lengthy consequences (and it’s strange to note how many of the cases focused on here involve a pizza place). It’s hard to accuse anyone of chasing the ego rush when you see Brandy Alexander paying for gas with the coins she has left to her name, but director Dawn Porter dispenses with any kind of manipulative heart-string pulling and presents all the facts with charged but unsentimental intelligence.