Perhaps no topic is more controversial than the death penalty, and this tight, 90-minute documentary from Katy Chevigny and Kirsten Johnson (the latter worked as a cinematographer on Fahrenheit 911) tackles it head on. The film examines one specific aspect of capital punishment in Illinois, where a number of condemned murderers were later proved innocent — though not always before their execution. The most shocking aspect of the story is that some of these miscarriages of justice were not overturned by crusading human rights groups or zealous defense lawyers, but by college kids working on a class project! The unusual hero of the piece is the state’s conservative governor, George Ryan, who, after seeing the flaws in the system, commuted the sentences of all 167 people on death row to life imprisonment.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke