After Innocence

"OK"

After Innocence Review


The advantage of making a documentary like After Innocence is that no matter what one's opinion is on law enforcement, hopefully most everybody can agree that at the very least, innocent people shouldn't be kept in jail. This is also what makes this such an exceptionally depressing film - no matter which way you slice it, humans are fallible, making the justice system fallible, meaning that on occasion, innocent people will go to jail or be executed. Jessica Sanders' film is about the ones who are rescued in time.

The standard fictional way of telling a story about the wrongly imprisoned is all about what needs to be done in order to prove their lack of guilt; little attention is paid to the aftermath. Sanders' great idea was to follow seven incarcerated men whose innocence was proved by DNA evidence and see what happens to them once they're set back into world after years behind bars. Her great idea, unfortunately, is none too tightly focused, resulting in a rambling work that often leaves more questions than it answers.

What these men have been through, of course, can hardly be imagined. There's Herman Atkins, who spent 11 years in prison before DNA proved that he hadn't committed rape and robbery. Nicholas Yarris, an understandably angry and agitated wire of a guy, waited 21 years on death row to be told he was innocent. The pudgy, blue-collar, former army sergeant Dennis Maher put in 19 years for rape, assault, and battery, before being returned to his home town. The insult added to these men's injury is that most of them don't even have their records expunged after being released. A court system that - in the eyes of the film - seems to hold grudges and doesn't like being alerted to its mistakes, rarely completely cleans anybody's record, meaning that these men can be innocent, set free into the world entirely on their own (compensation hardly ever seems to be given), and still have to check the "yes" box on a job application where it asks, "Have you ever been convicted of a felony?" Unfair hardly begins to describe it.

Sanders has some excellent subjects here, but what After Innocence really feels like is an inspirational recruiting video for the very admirable groups (like The Innocent Project and The Life After Incarceration Program) that do this kind of work. As such, it's fantastic. But as a documentary the film is much less successful, rarely digging deep enough to address the core issues of the legal and political system that are in play here. The lingering aftereffects of incarceration are certainly illustrated by Sanders' many thoughtful interviews with the seven men, but the grotty details of the political and legal muck miring the entire process are nowhere to be found. It's a shame, because such information would be helpful, to say the least. Until concrete measures are taken to address the fundamental problems causing these mistaken incarcerations, such mistakes as shown here will continue to be made, and Sanders will have enough subjects for a hundred sequels.

Free bird!



After Innocence

Facts and Figures

Run time: 95 mins

In Theaters: Saturday 1st January 2005

Distributed by: New Yorker Films

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 91%
Fresh: 42 Rotten: 4

IMDB: 7.9 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Jessica Sanders

Producer: Marc Simon, Jessica Sanders

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