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Louis Theroux isn't everyone's cup of tea and I'll be honest and say
that at times he isn't mine. He has his goals for his films and
sometimes he can appear to be trying to manoeuvre his subjects or traps
them somehow in order to get what he needs rather than just letting
them be themselves and see what happens not often perhaps, but
sometimes. There is none of that in this two-part film though and
instead there are lots of really articulate and engaging subjects who
discuss honestly their situation. The film focuses on a massive jail in
Miami and, in America, the difference between a jail and a prison is
not just a choice of words but a matter of state jail being the place
those awaiting trial are sent. In other words everyone in this film is
innocent in the eyes of the law a fact that is stated at the start of
both parts of this film in case we forget (as it would be easy to do).
Within the film Louis interviews those in the cells, focusing on
several characters that he either checks back with or finds in other
parts of the system at a later date; he also checks out a "boot camp"
initiative for those in the jail and also talks to guards working in
the system. The results are varying but nearly always fascinating
some inform him of the code of the cells, of how the constant fights
work etc; some talk to him about their experiences and for many of them
the open chatting gets them to consider things and say things that they
certainly would not voice to guards or peers. It is hard to watch the
film because you feel like a bleeding heart liberal but I think I
think I felt this way because the sheer reality of the situation makes
it hard to do anything other than feel despair for a system that is
broken from the street level to the legal level.
It all does an excellent job of presenting a system built on
reinforcing violence in which nobody can really change it; certainly
the guards seem powerless to enforce anything and are left just to tidy
up the pieces and keep things moving the best they can. The picture of
this "training" is well conflicted with the boot camp; Louis is careful
not to praise this approach and indeed the limitations of it are
evident, but given a choice between the two methods of "training" it is
clear which is preferable. While some viewers will roll their eyes to
see heavily tattoo street level drug dealers discussing the way they
were brought up, it is well framed within the bigger picture of being
"trained" to be a certain way. Some are reflective on it, others are
matter-of-fact about it and some appear to be letting their own words
sink into their heads at times. What combines almost everyone though is
a real ability to be articulate, to be thoughtful and to be engaging
for absolutely sure I had little doubt that many of those talking had
more than committed the crimes they were accused of, but that didn't
make the film easier to accept as a system.
Overall this is a film that is as engaging as it is brutally honest. It
doesn't point fingers but through chats and interviews it allows the
viewer to draw the inevitable conclusion that many things in the
specific and the bigger picture are very, very broken. This film shows
us how those accused of being criminals are treated or allowed to be
treated and it makes for a really engaging and well-made documentary.
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