Insofar as cruel fates go, Deborah Peagler certainly drew a tragic lot in life: a promising student, she fell into the clutches of Oliver Wilson, who allegedly abused young Deborah and ultimately muscled her into prostitution. Her relationship with Oliver came to an unduly tragic end when Deborah's mother enlisted local gang members to supply a memorable warning - tensions boiled over, and by day's end, Oliver was dead. Tried for playing a part in the murder in 1983, Peagler was compelled to plead guilty after the prosecution threatened to pursue the death penalty. Her sentence was twenty five to life.
Yoav Potash's documentary Crime After Crime picks up in the midst of pro bono work by two attorneys, Nadia Costa and Joshua Safran (whose observance of Orthodox Judaism is smartly not blown out of proportion but instead incorporated as a source of strength and purpose in his life). Costa and Safran take on Peagler's case hoping against hope to free the women, whose application for release has been rejected time and time in spite of a stellar prison record. The attorneys are also piggybacking on a 2002 that would allow Peagler to secure a new hearing in light of new evidence.
Potash has fashioned this documentary to show the breaks in the case for what they are - minor victories, treated as humble steps in the right direction by the attorneys. As a result, Crime after Crime feels intimate and as vital facts are drawn up from a murky past with the help of a weathered private eye, the underdog story that plays may feel like truth imitating fiction. But it all checks out, with Costa and Safran practically fighting to free Peagler as time becomes impossibly precious in the final third.
If there is a greater message to take to heart here, it is that domestic abuse is rampant and an alarming number of American women currently imprisoned may have landed there in attempt to protect themselves from a violent spouse, boyfriend or a relative. Peagler's case is unique in its circumstances, but the possibility of corruption on behalf of the prosecution certainly makes one doubt the validity of sentenced handed down past and future. Credit again to Potash for focusing on Peagler alone and not using the results of the attorney's efforts as a soap box to shout down from.
You can jump onto Wikipedia and learn of the ending, but this writer strongly recommends you do not. After all, a documentary is still bound by narrative rules (most of the time anyway) and this one packs a wallop. It may just bring you to tears. Crime After Crime is both sadly and triumphantly true, a story that needs little embellishment, presented here in straightforward doc that pulls few punches.
The Widescreen 1.78:1 transfer is an acceptable one but there is nothing here that could be deemed visually enthralling. Even though certain scenes are captured on the fly, the camerawork rarely suffers and by and large, it's nothing to complain about.
A Dolby 2.0 Stereo pipes in dialogue loud and clear.
The moving true life drama is expanded with welcome extras, including a trio of Deleted Scenes that feature nearly twelve minutes devoted to reenactments of events leading up to that critical night, as well Peagler's trials in chemo and a final, touching scene featuring a memorial in her honor. "Crime After Crime in Context" takes seven minutes to discuss the importance of Peagler's case and the documentary illuminating it toward possible revisal of domestic violence laws. The final substancial extra is a nearly 15-minute "Q&A at the Sundance Film Festival" featuring director Yoav Potash, Safran and Costa fielding a variety of question on making the doc and the coverage it received. Also included is a trailer for the film, several text pages devoted to the crew, musicians and others who made it happen, a "sizzle reel" courtesy of the OWN Doc Club and several trailers for unrelated features.
Crime After Crime makes some strong condemnations of the American legal system without losing track of one very moving case. Recommended.
The best of the five boroughs is now represented. Brooklyn in the house! I'm a hardworking film writer, blogger, boyfriend and hopeful Corgi owner. Find me on Twitter @markzhur and on Tumblr at Our Elaborate Plans...