Friday, September 16, 2005

The Staircase

The Staircase
directed by Jean-Xavier de Lestrade

(note: this is a review I originally wrote for the New Times newspaper chain, but was cut for space reasons)
It must have been hell waiting weeks between episodes of The Staircase when it originally aired on the Sundance Channel. Directed by Jean-Xavier de Lestrade (who won an Oscar for his documentary Murder on a Sunday Morning), this thrilling doc chronicles the murder trial of Michael Peterson (the other Peterson case), the North Carolina novelist accused of murdering his wife on a set of stairs in 2001. The twists and turns around each corner propel you from one episode to the next; I watched all eight -- six and a half hours' worth -- in a single sitting. By the end, you still may not feel certain whether Peterson is a killer or his wife was the victim of a horrific accident. But the astonishing access the filmmakers were given to Peterson gives you a deep look into our justice system. The focus on the defense’s side of the story leaves out some important facts that could have changed your mind, but hold off on any outside research until the series is through. The extra features, from a more recent interview with Peterson and a long and boring chat with de Lestrade, won’t leave you feeling any closer to the truth. Highly recommended.

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