Oscar's 'Murder' should be put on Death Row

ggarvin@herald.com
 
ON HBO: Brenton Butler, a teen charged with murdering in elderly tourist during a robbery, is the subject of the Oscar-winning documentary, 'Murder on a 
Sunday Morning.'
 
ON HBO: Brenton Butler, a teen charged with murdering in elderly tourist during a robbery, is the subject of the Oscar-winning documentary, 'Murder on a Sunday Morning.'


Murder on a Sunday Morning. Sunday 10 p.m.-midnight. HBO.

Oscar acceptance speeches should come with a warning label: What you are about to hear may well be self-serving nonsense that only vaguely resembles the truth. Exhibit A: Jean-Xavier de Lestrade, collecting his best-documentary Sunday night for Murder on a Sunday Morning. De Lestrade bragged that it was about ``a teenager who had been stopped and sent to jail because he was just a black kid walking in the street near a crime scene.''

In fact, the teenager was arrested for the murder of a Jacksonville tourist because the victim's husband, who was standing three feet away at the time of the shooting, identified him as the killer. Nor was this a racist rampage by white cops; the sheriff who oversaw the investigation and the detective who did the main interrogation on the teenager were black.

Oh, well. Why settle for the truth when you can have Art? And in any event, over-hyped claims are hardly the worst faults of Murder on a Sunday Morning, a French-made film that gets its first broad American exposure Sunday on HBO.

Long, monotonous, badly written and inadequately reported, about the only thing you can say for it is that it's not the worst film ever to win the Oscar for documentaries, at least not until they revoke the award to The Panama Deception.

Murder on a Sunday Morning tells the story of the 2000 trial of Brenton Butler, a 15-year-old kid charged with murdering an elderly tourist during a robbery.

Picked up for questioning near the crime scene because he in part matched the description of the killer, Butler was charged after the woman's husband fingered him as the killer. He confessed, but later recanted and said the confession was beaten out of him by police. A jury acquitted Butler, and two other men were later charged with the crime.

Whether another director could have made this relatively cut-and-dried case into an interesting documentary is open to question. What is clear is that de Lestrade didn't. He didn't interview cops, prosecutors, or any of the important witnesses -- not even Butler himself. And he doesn't make any attempt to put the case in context; there's nothing here about the social structure of Jacksonville, or the larger workings of its criminal justice system.

Instead, Sunday Morning is an endless series of boastful interviews with Butler's lawyers, intercut with disastrously unedited trial testimony that too often veers off into irrelevant effluvia: Did Butler use the word ''comply'' while talking to cops? Did he eat dinner the night before the murder? Who cares? It's unfortunate that this passes for documentary filmmaking in France, but then remember, the French also think Jerry Lewis is a genius.