Wind River — Chilling and Icy, Drifting in the Snow

Wind River movieA tense police procedural and neo-Western, Wind River opens on an icy, moonlit, Wyoming landscape. Writer, producer and director, Taylor Sheridan (the 2016 Oscar-nominated Hell or High Water as well as Sicario) has created another winner.

A terrified Native American teenage girl is running in the snow, barefoot and bleeding.  She falls face down, gets up, and runs for six miles before dying from blood filling her lungs.  That chilling scene is the opening scene in the true story of Wind River.

On the Wind River Arapaho Reservation we see the main character, Cory (played by Jeremy Renner), barely visible in his white camouflage gear tracking predators in glaring, snow-blinding bright sun. As a US Fish and Wildlife agent on the reservation, the last dead body he expects to find is that of a young woman.  He tracks wolves and mountain lions.   The lethal cold of Wyoming and the barren natural beauty of its landscape stand in stark contrast to each other:  a dangerous and forlorn but beautiful wilderness.

Cory is a man of few words and enormous pain. After losing a teenage daughter himself, he is now estranged from his Native American wife (Julia Jones) but remains devoted to both her and their son, Casey (Teo Briones).

FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olson from “Ingrid Goes West” ) flies in from Las Vegas in a severe snow storm to investigate the suspicious death. Sheriff Ben (the astonishing Graham Greene of “Dances with Wolves” and The Green Mile”) must arrange for Jane to  borrow winter clothes from one of the local Arapaho women. Jane soon becomes a quick-study in the harsh life on the reservation.

Wind River paints a searing picture of life on society’s margins. Renner and Olsen’s characters both realize that the sense of loss due to a young girl’s death is not the only loss.  The cycle of hopelessness and poverty desperately pile up, deep as snow drifts. Outsiders who exploit the natural resources on the reservation and the Arapaho, who feel trapped, reveal a part of society that has long since been forgotten, sometimes willfully so.

Life is tough and the people even tougher.  The characters are flawed but relatable. However, a fuller backstory could have created a  beating heart to Wind River that would have contributed to the whodunit plot.  As a  suspense thriller, the violence, revenge, and clues gear the reader for the inevitable dispensing of a frontier “cowboy” justice. It’s a harrowing movie to watch, especially the flashback to the crime itself, but a number of plot holes keep the ending from being entirely convincing or satisfying.  I still recommend this film for its  exposure to life on a  reservation and the tragedies that remain unreported.

Note:  At the end of Wind River, there is a note that thousands of Native American women go missing with no reporting or statistics maintained:  “While missing person statistics are compiled for every other demographic, none exist for Native American women.”  Other research shows that the murder rate for Native American women is estimated to be as much as ten times the national average.

Merchants of Doubt (2014) –Certainty Nonetheless

Merchants of Doubt movie

This film, is based on the 2010 non-fiction book by Harvard professor Naomi Oreskes and NASA historian Erik M. Conway. Merchants of Doubt is magnificently directed by the Oscar nominated filmmaker, Robert Kenner (“Food, Inc.”).

This film is about the tactics used repeatedly by pseudo-experts to mislead the public about scientific findings critical to commercial products or practices. The tactics have not fundamentally changed in the more than fifty years since the cigarette industry began its suppression of the dangers of smoking tobacco. Kenner has brilliantly spliced together footage of several pseudo-experts, two of whom are well-known: the now deceased Fred Seitz and his colleague Fred Singer. Under the mantle of being “scientists”, Fred Seitz (a nuclear physicist who helped develop the atomic bomb) and Fred Singer (also a physicist with some environmental science experience in mining) have become the most prominent deniers of scientific research that corporate America considers a threat to their bottom line. They were repeatedly called upon as experts across industries to refute negative findings reported by qualified experts. These “merchants of doubt” — or pseudo-experts– hide their funding sources and conflicts of interest in order to maintain their credibility and legitimacy. They make their living by opposing scientific evidence counter to corporate gains.

Cigarette manufacturers testified before Congress that the science community was wrong, citing arguments from Singer and Seitz. It didn’t matter that neither were experts in the fields of environmental medicine and pathology.

Most notably, the cohort of “merchants of doubt” insist that science is neither certain nor is there consensus on matters considered settled by the scientific community. In some instances, scientists who opposed these “merchants of doubt” were threatened. Testimony is particularly compelling and persuasive from legitimate experts who discovered the deceptions from the bogus scientific evidence they once accepted.

Merchants of Doubt also focuses on climate-change deniers. The deniers don’t contest the data, which is indisputable. They instead attack the climatologists’ motives, who they believe are communists ( a bit odd in my humble opinion). Of course, these “experts” have no knowledge or training in meteorology or climatology. Singer and Seitz, the very same physicists formerly used by cigarette manufacturers to deny the hazards of smoking, hold themselves out as experts on climate change. Seitz is still active today denying human impact on the planet.

A small handful of other scientists and marketing gurus have made a living by representing conservative thinktanks such as the Heritage Foundation. The industries underwriting these foundations can create a patina of respectability and credibility by citing a “senior fellow at a prominent Washington thinktank”.

And most shattering, the Merchants Of Doubt implicates the media for not investigating climate change more thoroughly, and for giving equal voice to these political thinktanks, all in the name of appearing unbiased.

This is, without a doubt, one of the most chilling documentaries I have seen. Manipulation of public opinion is a controversial subject not limited to just political campaigns. Kenner delivers a powerful message about the tactics some industries will employ to make a buck at humanity’s expense. You owe it to yourself to see this one.

 

Ozark–A Stark, Dark Thriller

Ozark Netflix original series

This Netflix Original series (released July 21 of this year) was created by screenwriter Bill Dubuque (known for The Accountant, see my review). Ozark is so good it approaches the standard set by “Breaking Bad”.

The series showcases Chicago financial planner Marty Byrde (a sensational Jason Bateman from “Arrested Development”) and his wife Wendy (the impeccable Laura Linney of “Masterpiece Theater”)  a homemaker turned real estate agent. The couple relocate with their son and daughter to the Lake of the Ozarks, a summer resort community in Missouri.  Marty must find a way to  continue to launder  money for a Mexican drug cartel.

What ensues in ten episodes is a taut thriller with plot twists which are neither slow nor predictable. Ozark is populated with some seriously heinous flawed characters: think Walter White. But then again “flawed characters” are just more interesting, as long as we can understand their motivations. There is no message of hope–at least not so far. and the only reality we witness is of extremely wounded personalities.

The scenes from the Byrde marriage recall the relationship between Frank and Claire Underwood from House of Cards. Jason Bateman and Laura Linney have a conjugal dance that leaves the viewer cringing at each blow and confrontation.

Although the acting and dialog are brillant, Ozark may fall outside of some viewers comfort zones. While you would not want to be friends with ANY of the main characters, a few scenes may be “over the top” for some.

One criticism I do have of “Ozark” is that the minor characters who live in the Lake of the Ozarks are playing to type–or maybe stereotype–of rednecks–uneducated and desperate– who can’t think of any other life choices besides crime. There are a brother-sister pair attempting to escape their circumstances but tremendous fear and family loyalty prevent them from exiting their miserable situation. Mexicans are also stereotyped as either in drug cartels or “cleaning toilets”. Those aspects of Ozark I find offensive, and wish screenwriters would work a little harder at making their point rather than perpetrating stereotypes. The narrative is otherwise superb.

“Ozark carefully guides the audience through the story, sometimes to excess. (For example, one episode unnecessarily is devoted almost entirely to backstory.)  However, Ozark is far from predictable. Bateman’s disarming and deceptively complex performance contributes greatly to his character’s evolution. He’s not sympathetic, and he’s not good, but he’s not as bad as he could be. He is desperate to protect his family as well as to survive. He is smart, employing any ruthless means at his disposal.

Please hurry with the release of the next season!

Note: [Not a spoiler alert) The finale is an editing anomaly in comparison to the preceding episodes. I thought it was a bit sloppy and melodramatic, detracting from the overall craft of screenwriting throughout this notable series.

 

Ingrid Goes West–Don’t Tag Along

Ingrid Goes West

Social media can evoke strong feelings. There have been a number of critically acclaimed plays, movies, and television series dealing with the impact of social media, mostly negative, and primarily associated with depression (which social scientific research currently validates). Examples aren’t hard to find: “13 Reasons Why”, “Dear Evan Hansen”, one episode from “Black Mirror”. Ingrid Goes West can be added to this growing subgenre.

An unhinged social media stalker, Ingrid Thorburn (comically and poignantly played by Aubrey Plaza of “Parks and Recreation”), is a social outcast looking for a BFF. She discovers the virtual life of Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen), an Instagram “star”, whose perfect virtual lifestyle becomes Ingrid’s latest obsession. So Ingrid decides to leave her boring life behind and move to LA. What ensues is at times hilarious with satirical insights for our media-crazed world.

The themes in Ingrid Goes West are obvious and one-dimensional: social media is an illusionary world, narcissistic (Trump, anyone?) and better than it seems. Yet, Ingrid’s pathological need for attention and social acceptance are believable, especially from a vulnerable 20-something woman. No one is likable in Ingrid Goes West, especially Ingrid. But I wanted to have empathy for Ingrid’s flawed character: she displays total disregard for right and wrong. Ingrid has little remorse for her actions, and less compassion for others.

Ingrid Goes West leaves this viewer wondering how far would we go to fit in to a group we consider important for our well-being. How far would you go to be accepted or consent to be manipulated?

The angst that engulfs Ingrid is seen in her face, her body language, the way she obsesses. Desperate to distract herself from who she really is for who she wants people to think she is,   social media filters her life choices with the imaginary friends usually associated with very young children.

The satire of Ingrid Goes West has become a bit of a fault line. Those inclined to think scrolling through your phone is anti-social, may think Ingrid Goes West is vapid Tweeting.  But I looked at it as a takedown of hashtags, Instagram pics, “likes” and emojis. It’s perhaps more accurate to call this movie a critique of human behavior and the social media’s impact on all of us, an impact we don’t fully understand yet, since the technology is new but ubiquitous. The insidiousness of social media can turn toxic. Additionally, Facebok, Instagram, and Twitter can hold up a mirror to us and a metric for not only vanity but for community and what constitutes it.

 

Note:  As of this writing, Ingrid Goes West is playing in theaters nationwide.

 

 

Maudie–Anything but Maudlin

 

Guest post by   Romalyn Tilghman, author of To the Stars Through Difficulties 

 

Maudie the movie
Maudie

Maudie is the fictionalized account of the life of a self-taught artist, Maud Lewis (1903-1970), who lived in Nova Scotia. Maud (played by Sally Hawkins) answers an ad from fishmonger Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke) to clean his filthy, one-room shack shared with his chickens and dogs. Despite rheumatoid arthritis and slowness of speech, Maud becomes dedicated to serving him. Everett, having grown up in an orphanage and now living miles from town, epitomizes the curmudgeonly, reclusive bachelor.

The dialogue in Maudie is sparse, showcasing the actors’ gestures and facial expressions. The Nova Scotia landscape is stark but beautiful and so is the evolving companionship between Everett and Maud. Their relationship is never easy, but we watch as their respect, codependence, and even love, builds over the course of the movie, despite the ever-present tension.

Maud’s cheerful folk-art paintings bring not only light to their small wooden cabin but also to a larger art world thanks to a New York benefactor. The patroness instantly sees the appeal of Maud’s colorful trees, cats and birds, at first created only with the remnants of house paint.

I was disappointed that Maudie didn’t reveal more of the joy the artist must have felt in her own work. Photographs, of both the real Maud Lewis and her paintings, are featured in the end credits and show clearly that such joy did exist. But, despite watching a difficult relationship in hard times, we do understand that windows of light may frame the vast and sometimes dark landscape which includes our psychological home. As Maud finds cheer beyond the walls of her ramshackle home, she tells us, “The whole of life is already framed.” She shows us a new way of seeing our world.

Note: One of the voices in my novel, To the Stars Through Difficulties, is of a 30-something self-taught artist, nicknamed Trash, who was rescued from a garbage can on Times Square when she was only hours old. Using only recycled materials, she finds her own worth through self-expression and art-making. As an artist-in-residence in Kansas, she discovers both fulfillment and friendship.

 

“Baby Driver”–For Millennials

Baby Driver movie review
[Originally published for Blog Critics, July 3, 2017]

The highly praised feature film Baby Driver, starring newcomer Ansel Elgort as Baby, tells the story of a millenial car driver getting in and out of trouble while trying to capture the love of his life. Baby drives fast and furiously, shifting gears and tapping tunes he hears on this iPod (yes, an iPod) on his steering wheel while waitng for the criminal types he chauffeurs around to complete their heists–robbing banks and the post office.

Baby’s boss, Doc, (the incomparable Kevin Spacey in a role not deserving of his talent) is owed a debt from Baby, providing the motivation for the young getaway driver’s awful choices in job options and companions. One of the criminals, Buddy, (played by Jon Hamm, again, a waste of this actor’s abilities), seems to empathize with Baby at times, instead of humiliating him. A psychopathological maniac, Bats (Jamie Foxx, what were you thinking?), provides much of the gratuitous gore. A kindly foster father (played by C J Jones) offers one of the only heartbeats indicating humanity.

Baby Driver is first and foremost, about, sensational car chases and these are some of the most choreographed this viewer has ever seen. The cars rev up to mostly 70’s music with preposterous outcomes and perfect timing for comic effect. Furthermore, Baby has tinnitus, which he drowns out with his iPod, providing killer timing and the graceful rhythms his body dances to while walking, weaving in and out of the crowd as if driving on the streets of Atlanta.

A car-centric crime drama, with the actors timing their movements to the soundtrack, Baby Driver features constant, often glamorized violence. There are several mass shootings, with machine-gun deaths choreographed to music. You’ll also see several car accidents with splintering glass and bloody dead bodies, sudden deaths, blood, and gore. Many of the characters eventually die sudden, terrible deaths. Female characters are stereotypes, ogled by both the characters and the camera.

While this movie will continue to receive accolades and become a box office hit (released June 28), its target demographic–millennial guys–may be sufficient to gather some award nominations. The main actor, Ansel Elgort, holds the viewer’s attention, a babyfaced Patrick Swayze, who will almost certainly have more challenging roles offered in the future. Similar to “Drive”, Baby Driver has less story and convincing dialog. I would not recommend this one to non-millennial viewers. We are the wrong demographic.

 

The Siege at Jadotville–The Luck of the Irish

The Siege at Jadotville movie

Based on true events, The Siege at Jadotville (a Netflix original) is a shocking reenactment of a heroic battle that was meticulously covered up for over 40 years. In 1961 Dag Hammarskjold, United Nations Secretary General, sent 150 Irish Defence Forces, non-combatant peace keepers, to defend the fledgling secessionist state of Katanga (later to be part of the Republic of the Congo) against an overwhelming contingent of ex-Foreign Legion French and Katangese mercenaries. Tshombe (Katanga’s leader) had been hired by powerful international mining companies in Jadotville to send mercenaries to defend their interests.   En route to negotiate cease-fire conditions between the UN and the mercenary contingent, Hammarskjold dies in an airplane crash. The Siege at Jadotville retells the against-all-odds battle by inexperienced, ill-equipped Irish troops and the aftermath. Political posturing from both the UN and the mining corporations begin shortly thereafter.

Reminiscent in action scenes of the opening of Saving Private Ryan, The Siege at Jadotville thankfully places a bit less emphasis on the bloodshed.  The ensemble cast is convincing as untested army soldiers thrown into a literal baptism by fire.

The pace of the story is tightly written and the action sequences are superb, with a suspenseful arc of hope, determination, frustration, despair and resolution.  With superb cinematography, The Siege at Jadotville is a well-crafted sleeper of a war film, with an untold history lesson for all of us.

Note: Neither the UN nor Ireland acknowledged the battle until a review in 2004 by the Irish Minister of Defence at the insistence of retired Jadotville veterans who had been fighting for recognition ever since the battle. It wasn’t until 2016 that the Irish government awarded a Presidential Unit Citation to “A” Company,[ the first in Ireland’s history, to the veterans of Jadotville.

“The Salt of the Earth” (2014) –Drawing with Light

Salgado's Iguana Hand
Iguana Marina

Sebastiao Salgado, the renowned Brazilian sociopolitical photographer,  is the subject of this emotionally harrowing documentary. The viewer witnesses photographs of heartbreaking gravity and human agony, both unprecedented and breathtaking. The 2014 Academy Award nominated The Salt of the Earth reveals Salgado’s masterpieces of portraiture, political journalism, landscape, and animals in a way that evokes strong feelings. A display of Ansel Adams this is not!

Perhaps the most startling experience in watching The Salt of the Earth is the beauty that is embedded in the tragic and cruel situations of his subjects. Here we see the evidence of his emotional response to what he photographs and frame by frame, in mostly black and white photos. Each black and white photograph is a meditation, not a representation and Salgado is keenly aware of this as he narrates each photographic series: “Workers”, “Exodus”, “Genesis”, and others.

The majority of The Salt of the Earth is extremely painful to watch–a testimony to violence, genocide, and holocausts beyond even the most grotesque of imaginations. Deeply affecting, this documentary visualizes the inhumane, abject conditions that much of the world’s population, particularly women and children, endure. The Salt of the Earth is a must-see. Courageous and compassionate, Salgado explains his photographs in elegant poetic form: “Our history is a history of wars. It’s an endless story, a tale of madness.” With soulful voice and unbelievably sad eyes, he is unflinching in reporting on the ugliness of human existence but also the beauty of those struggling to survive. The underbelly of human behavior is powerfully depicted, mostly in stark monochromatic photos, with the support of the extraordinary director Wim Wenders (of “Buena Vista Social Club” and “End of Violence” fame).

Blind Woman of Mali
Blind Woman of Mali

Anyone watching The Salt of the Earth will wonder how Salgado survived the horrors of what he witnessed,– the heart of darkness,– with his soul intact. “We humans are terrible animals” he says at one point. He himself confesses there were times when all he did was sob throughout the night. Photographing war and genocide may have brought Salgado to the edge of despair and insanity, but recently his projects have been redirected to renewing and restoring the planet.

Salgado is a living testimony to how art can be witness to truth.  His photographs and experience, his “drawings in light”, The Salt of the Earth is unforgettable. You cannot but be moved by this film!

Note:  Available on Netflix

 

Sense of an Ending (2017) –Remembrance of Things Past

 

Sense of an Ending movie
Based on Julian Barnes’s novel

 

Sense of an Ending works better on the page than The Sense of an Ending works on the screen. Novels are mental and films are visual and Julian Barnes’s 2011 Man Booker Prize novel, Sense of an Ending, has been acclaimed for elegance, incisiveness and for the powerful unreliable memory of the main character. The Sense of an Ending (directed by Ritesh Batra, also director of the delightful Lunchbox) is a dramatic adaptation of the novel. It glides back and forth in time as we view the disconnected pieces of a previously unexamined life and the exploration of memory’s role in constructing one’s identity.

Tony Armstrong (a subtle performance by Jim Broadbent) becomes obsessed with his college days, after he is bequeathed his best friend’s diary The problem is that the diary is in the possession of his old girl friend Victoria (Charlotte Rampling). She refuses to hand it over. Now a late sixty-something semi-retired shop keeper, Tony’s days are a  meandering in a foggy haze of opaque memory.

A mystery begins to unfold, literally, in Tony’s rearview mirror and in his present, as he searches for answers concerning Adrian’s diary. What follows is the destruction of self-identity, friendship, and one’s life story caused by a letter saved from the past.

Some of the most crucial details in character and plot are left to the viewer to determine, and the motivation, regret, and loss of one’s own story are not available to the viewer. Tantalizing clues as to what impact the letter had are sorely lacking.

We all remember an event differently. We’re raised by the same parents, with the same siblings but we still have had different childhoods. Older people have more of a past than the young, so their memories are full of memories of memories–and of ways to construct versions of themselves they feel comfortable with. And how do the things that we forget, choose to leave out or just misremember affect how we view our past, our present, ourselves?

Broadbent tries heroically to suggest his longing to make things right before decrepitude and dying set in–to have the life he chooses to remember, but Sense of an Ending left this viewer wanting more of the interior life–the quiet catastrophe– of this flawed, unlikable character. How does an older self pass judgment on the younger version? Perhaps psychological narratives like Sense of an Ending demand too much from cinematic presentation, visual scenes of the reflection of the mind.

 

“Bordertown”– New Boundaries in Scandinavian Noir

Bordertown Netflix original
Bordertown (Sojornen)

You can escape the big city and its frenetic fierceness, but you can’t escape murder, not even in the hinterland of Finland. That’s the psychologically disturbing theme in Bordertown, Netflix’s latest international acquisition and the latest Scandinavian Noir drama that’s sure to mesmerize audiences.

Bordertown is also a drama about family in which crime disrupts and plagues the family’s attempts at intimacy and communication.

The main character, Detective Kari Sorjonen, decides he needs to leave the horrors of urban crime for a slower pace, moving his wife and teenage daughter to his wife’s hometown bordering St. Petersburg. Looking for balance between family and work, Sorjonen soon finds himself in the midst of a disturbing investigation tangentially linking the brutal murders of teenage girls to his own family.

The brooding, dark environment –like all great Nordic Noir —underscores the underbelly of nasty psychopaths and their heinous crimes. In Bordertown almost all of the horror involves teenage girls–but the main plot which carries emotional weight throughout the series is that Kari Sorjonen just wants to have dinner with his family without being called away to another brutal murder scene. The fact that his daughter is the same age as the victims overwhelms and drives Sorjonen to maniacally solve each crime.

Sorjonen, as a savant with picture-perfect photographic memory, literally constructs memory palaces with masking tape laid out on the floor. Dysfunctional and deeply flawed in many ways (like Sherlock Holmes, Adrian Monk, and the autistic female detective in each of three adaptations of Brön or The Bridge), Sorjonen is a brilliant crime solver.

If you’re looking for a new heart-pounding crime drama series with one crime solved in two or three succeeding episodes (“Doll’s House, Parts 1, 2 and 3; then “Dragonflies”, Parts 1 and 2), then this is a great option. You can binge view until the crime is solved, three hours of viewing max, before moving on to the next murder.

I’ve got six more episodes to go!

Note: Bordertown‘s series premiere in Finland (October 2016) drew a record 1.1 million viewers, which is roughly a fifth of the country’s population.

The Salesman–Not Exactly Arthur Miller

The Salesman movieThis 2017 Academy Winner for Best Foreign Film defies easy categorization.   The masterful Asghar Farhadi is the director, screenwriter, and producer of the 2013 Cannes Winner, “The Past”, the 2011 Academy Award Winner of “A Separation” and his most recent, The Salesman. All three of these Iranian films are idiosyncratic narratives of Shakespearean themes . The first destabilizes the past reminding us of unintended consequences (The Past), the second focuses on the nature of truth when there are no moral absolutes (A Separation), and the third reveals primal vindictiveness and revenge when one’s family is attacked (The Salesman). The Salesman, despite its low dramatic temperature and pacing, will raise questions about compassion and loss and human decency.

An Iranian couple –Emad and Rana– move to a new apartment. The couple are both acting in a production of “The Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller, with some censorship by the government. After a horrific act of violence, Rana does not wish to report the incident, raising questions for her husband Emad and the audience. Rana withdraws emotionally from the trauma and her performance as a stage actress is affected. The air between Rana and Emad remains disturbed. Not capable of communicating their shock and injury to each other, Emad becomes obsessed with demanding revenge from the guilty party and sets out to find him. As the wounded husband who cannot speak of the unspeakable, Emad transforms into someone Rana cannot understand. Now what is unsaid cannot be said. Each is afraid to say the wrong thing more than saying nothing at all.

Miller’s play, The Death of a Salesman” is the cinematic device to create a play within a play, having Enad and Rana mirror the marriage of Willy Loman and his wife Linda. However, with their marriage’s fragility as one of the central plots, the cultural divide between Iranian culture and American seems to obstruct the viewer’s comprehension or sympathy for both Enad and Rana, although Rana’s loss is more poignant and more accessible.

Not as impressive a film as his two earlier award-winning ones, “The Salesman” suffers from its play-within-a-play conceit, a parallelism between the heart-breaking marriage of the Lomans and that of Emad and Rana. This dramatic device did not succeed for this reviewer, and in fact was a distraction, although wondering how this couple would come to terms with their trauma held my interest.

 

The Keepers–Another Spotlight

The Keepers review
Sister Cathy Cesnik

In this seven-episode true-crime documentary from Netflix (released May 19 of this year), The Keepers explores the 1969 death of 26-year old Catholic nun and Baltimore schoolteacher Sister Cathy Cesnik and touches on 20-year-old Joyce Malecki’s murder four days later. Both slayings remain unsolved. The cover up that follows has echoes of Spotlight (see my review of January 16, 2016).

Gemma Hoskins and Abbie Schaub, two retired 60-something grandmothers and former students of Sister Cathy’s at Archbishop Keough High School, still feel disturbed by the almost-half-a-century-old cold case. Who savagely beat and then murdered beloved teacher Sister Cathy? Starting a Facebook group in 2014 to reach out to others to share information about Sister Cathy’s murder, these two badass senior citizens–as intrepid and analytical as Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple–uncover a cold case like no other that the Baltimore police or Catholic Church has had to contend with.   Abbie and Gemma create a safe space for people who had been afraid to speak up.  And the role of social media is astounding as a tool for criminal investigation. These two amateur sleuths use the internet brilliantly!

The Keepers, which some viewers may compare to Making a Murderer, spotlights a ring of child sex abuse so savage that the collateral damage– including addiction and suicide– may have affected over one-hundred students at the all-girl Catholic high school. We witness an incredibly raw, harrowing, eye-opening journey that implicates those we are raised to trust most: family, church, and state.

A lot of people were threatened by Sister Cathy, if she were to talk.The Keepers suggests a strong link between the police’s deliberate mishandling of the case and the archdiocese’s intentional cover-up in this devout Catholic community.

Attention is first drawn in 1994 by Jean Hargadon Wehner–who is the first to come forth and reveal the possible perpetrators in Cathy’s murder. She also files a $40 million lawsuit alleging sexual abuse at the hands of the high school chaplain, Father Maskell. She reports that he showed her Sister Cathy’s body in the woods when she was his student– as a warning against speaking out.  “Do you see what happens when you say bad things about people?” She kept her secret for almost thirty years. “I put what happened to me in a box, so I could survive,” Jean explains.

Netflix has masterfully produced an intense whodunit on several levels: 1) We see the community blinded by what is happening, and at times, believing the authorities over their own children; 2) We see how cruel, violent behavior in the name of religion can manipulate the innocent and inexperienced into submission; 3) We see how the lack of sexual education and candor led to rampant manipulation of children; 4) And we see how post-traumatic stress shuts down memory as a self-protective mechanism in order to deal with unhealed wounds.

This powerful exposé spotlights corruption by the Catholic church, the police department, and the court system. At the end we see an outraged Jean Hargadon Wehner scream out, in a raw hoarse cry, — “Those mother fuckers!”

 

Note: As of May 23, the Baltimore City Police Department has created a Facebook page to help solve the murders. Leads and possible witnesses in the investigations continue after the last day of filming. Additional social media sites have become involved (subreddits in particular).