It’s been over twenty years since the name Pamela Smart become a household name for her implication in a complex web of seduction and murder. The requisite arrest and trial of Smart, for her role in the death of her husband, began the media driven phenomena of sensationalizing and making rock stars out of murder cases, garnering them with a level of coverage that made it near impossible to live in the United States and not have an opinion over a supposed offender and what they had done.
Director Jeremiah Zagar sees this strong public opinion, and the media that nurtured it, as possible culprits that victimized Smart in the midst of their vicious content-hungry news cycle ravages. This is an interesting angle (though not really 90 minutes interesting), but it doesn’t pan out. The idea that the media drove the Pamela Smart narrative and created a legend so compelling and believable that it led to an improper conviction just doesn’t fit with the facts much less with much of the footage from the documentary. At best the film proves that she was prejudged as guilty, which while inexcusable, does not exonerate her from the overwhelming amount of evidence produced at trial. If this documentary shows anything, it is the potential that a similar media reaction could have in a trial that is not so cut and dry.
‘Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart’ is a boilerplate documentary. It mixes archival news footage with new interviews from the people involved, including Smart herself, and every once in awhile it throws in clips from the two movies about Pamela Smart. The movie clips are given a bit of prominence and focus because their content has been argued by Smart as being responsible for the courts denying her previous appeals and for sullying her public image.
The interviews with Smart are somewhat interesting, but they mostly offer exactly what one would expect, claims of innocence and a strong embracing of the media blame angle. Towards the end, she intimates that she will one day win her freedom and overcome the media leviathan that has been attacking her for over two decades. It feels more like the depressing plea of someone unable to accept reality, rather than the triumphant challenge of a wrongly imprisoned victim.
The documentary grabs hold of a unique angle, but its focuses are on elements that have little to do with things that actually determined the guilt of Pamela Smart. People who want to learn more about Smart and her court case can learn more about the actual facts and evidence with a Google search than in this documentary, which is an overlong expose that can only prove that the media thought she was guilty before the jury came back.