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Louis Theroux: Miami Megajail
IMDB Rating: 7.5/10 from 423 votes
Release: 22 May 2011 (UK) /

Louis Theroux: Miami Megajail

Genre: Documentary
Director: Emma Cooper,
Synopsis: Louis spends time in one of Miami County Jail's most notorious sections

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Critic Reviews

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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