Unbelievable Netflix (2019) Review: The Truth Will Set Us Free.
“Even with good people, even with people that you can kinda trust. If the truth is inconvenient, if the truth doesn’t like, fit, they don’t believe it. Even if they really care about you, they just.. they just don’t.”
Have you ever heard someone tell a story that is so detailed and specific like a TV show plot, you don’t believe it? When the events are so incompatible with your way of thinking, you assume it isn’t true? This is what Netflix’s Unbelievable is about. As much as it is a story of crime, it’s fitting to be called a story of doubt. This excellent miniseries by CBS Television and Netflix will have you disgusted, infuriated and flat-out frustrated with the justice system as much as the criminal himself.
Created by Susannah Grant (directed 2 episodes), Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman, Unbelievable on Netflix recreates the true stories featured in the Pulitzer Prize-winning article ‘An Unbelievable Story of Rape’, written by T. Christian Miller of ProPublica and Ken Armstrong of The Marshall Project. Even though they changed the names of some characters, the entire series is so faithful to its source and the real story just the way it is faithful to its purpose. Even so, they retained the first victim’s name ‘Marie’ which serves not as a victim’s name but a symbol of injustice but later turned into a survivor.
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One of the best things about the show is its realism. Despite the harrowing and heart-wrenching facts about the case, it never relied on being pitiful or melodramatic that a lot of real-life based programs tend to fall for. Instead, the series found its footing with its vigorous-ness and boldness in telling the stories of these sexual assault cases with emphasis on the differences of the police procedures between those cases as well as the way victims cope with the exploitation they have suffered.
The direction, music score and cinematography of each episode are top-notch. Two different timelines were played in the first 7 episodes with a 3-year gap. But because of the smooth cuts and simply knowing when to switch in-between story lines, it never suffered from any pacing issue. Dealing with time gaps is one of the trickiest parts of film making and they have executed it perfectly, interweaving them the way it was knitted in the story piece by ProPublica.
As a matter of fact, almost every scene in the show is so precise with its source that watching it is almost like how one can imagine the scenes in their heads as you scroll through the article. That could be a sign of lack of creativity in fiction but this show doesn’t need any diversions to be creative. All it needed to give justice is to tell the story the right way, with the right script, with the right actors.
Everyone in this show did a marvelous job. Kaitlyn Dever (Marie), Merritt Wever (Karen Duvall) and Toni Collette (Grace Rasmussen) are outstanding as the show’s main protagonists. Danielle Macdonald (Amber), Jayne Taini (Doris), Eric Lange (Det. Parker) and Elizabeth Marvel (Judith) also brought their A-game that contributed to the success of this series. The rage and sorrow are felt and seen in these characters’ portrayals and the way they were written.
Duvall and Rasmussen’s characters were humanely depicted by showing their disagreements, frustrations and even diving into their personal lives that they try to balance with their duty as detectives. They were treated with such high respect as they explore their past mistakes and horrible experiences which added the needed verbal and visual motivations as to why they are fully committed to this manhunt. Meanwhile, Marie was never left untouched (no pun intended) as her character was so fleshed out. They played to the character’s strength in dealing with a life-altering incident but also showing her trauma, weakness, and fear without making it overly dramatic.
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The real Marie, as described by her former foster parent, was still smiling and laughing despite the heartache— which Dever brought to life seamlessly. Everything that these characters do affect everyone around as much as it did to them.
With the help of well-executed visuals and exquisite writing, the show succeeded in voicing the truth without succumbing to the current trend of overdone propaganda. It doesn’t point a finger to anyone nor was it busy blaming either side. All it did is set the narrative on the path of truth and let those who are wrong be exposed and those who are right be celebrated in their victory. It’s not a #meToo movement product, nor is it entirely feministic in nature. All it cares about are the survivors and those who did their best in bringing justice. The perpetrator himself (both in the show and in real life) pointed out how he poked a hole in the system that until today is still being patched with no definitive solution. The book designed to trained police officers in handling rape cases, mindset on procedural expenses and relying on legal terms are just examples of the growing problem in the justice system not just in the United States but in a global scale.
The eagerness to finish the job easily rather than finding the truth is one dangerous trait of many law enforcers. They’d rather poke holes in a victim’s story instead of connecting the dots with their thorough investigation. The difference between justice and injustice is defined through the treatment of interrogations between the two timelines. Marie’s statements had inconsistencies, which the cops exploited. They should have understood it given the shock, trauma, and proximity of situations, but they rather framed her as a liar. To top it all off, they did charge her which is one of the most insane things ever.
On the other hand, Duvall expressed frustratingly that it would have been easier if the one they previously questioned is the one who really did it but Rasmussen quickly retaliated that ‘that’s not how we do things’. The other side of that scenario could be seen on a deeper context on Ava DuVernay’s amazing series “When They See Us” where a group of underaged boys was wrongfully accused of rape for what? Yes, for the cops to no longer spend time investigating and just be over it. That’s not what Duvall and Rasmussen wanted, nor any righteous lawman ever. No one wants to be another Linda Fairstein.
What’s more heartbreaking than any of these Police issues is the fact that a case could have been closed and have the perpetrator locked up after one incident if only the mothers never doubted their daughter. Injustice on the court is tough, but injustice at home is ten times harder. The only women who Marie can hold on to became the biggest reason for her downfall. All because one person thinks that how she handled sexual assault (Judith) should be the only way another person should. It’s a tough angle to look at but it is as real as how it was depicted. Not only was she betrayed through rape, betrayed by the law but she’s also betrayed by the ones she love and that hits the most.
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In the end, it’s not just about justice for Marie or any of the victims presented in the show. It’s also about the disgusting truth about the ongoing rape culture and how those who should do the protecting did nothing at all. As stated in the article, only 5 percent of rape cases were proven wrong or made up. The fate of Marie’s case in the hands of the wrong user of power and authority is also the reason why there are more unreported cases of sexual abuse, assault, and rape than you can ever imagine.
In a case of consent, a touch, a kiss, any act or even words can be traumatic and shouldn’t be treated lightly. This show was able to shed a light on these sensitive topics that need immediate attention. It highlighted the different consequences if one ignores or help rescue a beaten soul. Much like the heroic work by the detectives, this miniseries is a job well done in every turn. In a positive context, it is truly unbelievable.