Immediately from the initial credit sequence, it is evident that ‘Scenes of a Crime’ is no ordinary documentary. The eerie music, dim lighting and intense topic immediately set the scene for a thought provoking and challenging production. The film focuses on the court case of Adrian Thomas, a man accused of killing his four month old son Matthew Thomas. Set in Troy, USA, the film includes the real footage of the police investigation of Adrian, alongside the opinions and perspectives of a number of experts and individuals involved in the trial, as well as courtroom scenes.
What particularly sets this documentary apart is the interesting form which director Blue Hadaegh chooses to use. Rather than providing a chronologically linear presentation of the footage, Hadaegh reorders the scenes and intersperses the footage with interviews with those on both prosecution and defence sides of the case. The effect of this is to create an ever changing perspective on the proceedings, forcing the audience to question their initial judgements on the case. The non-linear presentation maintains the audiences interest as the events unfold in an unexpected manner, where what appear to be solid facts, crumble in the light of new evidence.
The use of interviews allows for the audience to comprehend the events from a wide variety of accounts, and assists in the shaping of final opinions. The statements made by the varying experts related to the case highlight the controversial issues regarding the case, and provide evidence to support all manner of theories as to whether it was the actions of Adrian Thomas which led to his young son’s tragic death. The interview with Adrian himself towards the end of the documentary is particularly enlightening in terms of his contrasting emotional state between this and the footage from the police interviews.
Perhaps one of the most intriguing aspects of the documentary is its focus on the contentious notions of police tactics in terms of extracting confessions from suspected criminals. Alongside this, the focus on how different types of evidence are given varying weight in court is indicated, as medical doctors, psychologists and policemen argue their perspectives of the credibility of confessions made in certain circumstances. The use of recorded footage of the police interviews in order to assist the jury’s decision making poses an interesting question as to whether this is how technology can assist in producing a fairer justice system, in response to criticisms of both underlying and explicit police brutality and bullying tactics.
The resulting piece is a provocative and fascinating documentary which underlines a number of key issues in the justice system. The film successfully portrays the many difficulties surrounding the controversial court case, and provides an unbiased judgement on it, allowing the audience to draw their own opinions and conclusions. The non-chronological portrayal of the police interviews, coupled with the shifting focus on experts opinions forces the audience to constantly question their own assumptions and to rethink the seeming simplicity of the case. The uncertainty surrounding Adrian’s confession, and the cause of Matthew’s death are mirrored in the audience’s response to the film. Hadaegh selects a fascinating case for the subject of his documentary, and deals with it sensitively, whilst simultaneously enforcing the drama of it through his use of tense music. Perhaps the overriding success of the documentary is to make the issues it portrays into serious topics for discussion by foregrounding wider issues through the more specific focus on a case which has continued to divide opinions since it first took place in 2009.
by Catherine Gowers