Review of the Netflix docudrama Manhunt: Deadly Games
Rating *** 1/2
Let me start by stating that I’m not a fan of films based on true events where the filmmakers make shit up to add drama. Take the final escape scene in the Oscar-winning movie Argo. It was suspenseful. Without that scene, the film would have gone nowhere. But it never happened. This Richard Jewel adaptation had a lot of scenes that are not backed up by facts. At the same time, the vast majority of this nine-episode docudrama was factual. So, do you give the filmmakers a pass?
As much as I enjoyed this series, I can’t give the filmmakers a pass on this one. There were too many issues.
Anyone who has ever taken a screenwriting class can tell you about a writing device known as the character arc. The idea is that every character in a story has to evolve in some way. The problem with this technique is that in the real world, people don’t always evolve. Some of the most compelling stories are the ones involving ordinary people caught in extraordinary circumstances. You don’t need a character arc to tell that kind of story.
In this docudrama, every character, except one, has a very defined character arc. The by-the-book FBI agent finally decides to listen to outside advice. The nutcase South Carolina militia members change their tune and aid the FBI in searching for Eric Rudolf. Richard Jewel’s mother goes from believing his guilt to supporting him.
The one character who holds the whole thing together is Richard Jewel, played by Cameron Britton. His is the sole performance that comes across as authentic. Everyone else in the series is a caricature.
It was all there. The true story had plenty of drama and intrigue. They didn’t have to draw from other films to tell it. Remember the pompous FBI agent in the film Diehard. That is the prototype used for the FBI agents in this film. The armed militia members seen in countless other movies. They’re here. They’re in the bar looking menacing. They’re running around like maniacs in their trucks and firing weapons just because. The one militia member who wasn’t a stereotype was Big John. He had some sense, which is probably closer to the truth.
The one character who bothered me the most was Richard Jewel’s mother, played by Judith Light. Maybe it was the whole character arc thing. Maybe it was the overacting or the stereotyping. If you want to see another way to play the same character, watch Kathy Bates’ portrayal of Richard’s mom in Clint Eastwood’s Richard Jewel film.
I’m going to criticize one more scene that stood out to me. This story has an ATF bomb expert who plays a critical role in the film. In one of the first or second episodes, his partner enters a makeshift bomb analysis room ( the ATF agent’s garage) and exclaims that there’s no need to continue analyzing the evidence. The FBI has named a suspect in the Olympics bombing. Rather than having the bomb expert look at the report and then finding inconsistencies in their findings, he dismisses the whole thing as if he already knows that the FBI got it wrong.
Despite my criticisms, I still enjoyed it enough to watch all ten episodes. I’d be interested to hear what other viewers thought. Leave your comments below.