True crime documentaries are all the rage, but they can be hit-or-miss in terms of quality. Patrick Forbes’s film The Phantom tends to hit more often than it misses, telling its shocking and fascinating story in a way that will never lose the audience’s attention, even when it falls back on the genre’s tropes.
The movie tells the story of a man who, convicted of a brutal murder and sentenced to death, continued to claim his innocence until his execution. We’ve seen plenty of documentaries come out about prisoners who were supposedly falsely accused (Making a Murderer popularized filmmakers using these types of stories as infotainment), and this is more of the same.
However, what allows Forbes’s movie to stand out is that it is wrapped up in a nice eighty minute box rather than a more prolonged format. This is probably one of the most leanly-argued true crime documentaries in recent memory, even if it does feel tremendously one-sided and close-minded.
Of course, there are a lot of issues with the justice system, and this film absolutely tears it apart. It’s frustrating to see how a system that was supposedly designed to make the world a better place repeatedly fails the people who it is meant to serve. It’s one of those movies that are endlessly frustrating, but important nevertheless.
That said, the short runtime does come at the expense of some of the deeper commentary that the story has the potential to offer. There is obviously a racial element in play here, as the issues that the film discusses disproportionately affect people of color, but this side of the story is only touched upon.
A majority of the movie consists of interviews from witnesses and legal experts, which give a feeling of credibility to the argument being made, even if there is still a very clear bias. However, the film’s emotional core are the interviews with the accused’s family, who tearfully mourn their loved one and this miscarriage of justice.
Forbes is obviously a very competent director, making his movie in a way that is lean and effective. However, there is no doubt that the film does a lot of things that are somewhat manipulative in nature for the sake of eliciting an emotional response from the audience. After all, there is no better way to get people talking than to leave them angry.
The Phantom is a pretty entertaining true-crime doc thanks to its riveting story and solid direction. It’s basically exactly what viewers would expect going into a movie like this, but that is what will allow it to find an audience.
The Phantom will be released in theaters on July 2.
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