A Filmmaker’s Review: The Confession Killer (Netflix, 2019)
5/5 - A brilliant critique of the justice system
“The Confession Killer” is a show about a serial killer whom we all know very well as being one of the most prolific killers in American History - Henry Lee Lucas. The question explored in this documentary is whether he was actually as prolific as he was made out to be. Confessing to over 200 murders and only having evidence of murdering under 10 people, this documentary seeks to clear up all the strangeness with the case that surrounded him. If you’ve paid attention to the Henry Lee Lucas case, you’ll notice that there was a big deal surrounding whether he was coaxed into confessing these random murders that kept appearing even though it was proven that when the murders happened, he must have been thousands of miles away. Various tickets from gas stations halfway across the country solidify the statement that Henry Lee Lucas probably didn’t kill most of these people at all. The documentary itself is filmed brilliantly. Alongside people who were actually at the case and hearings, people who worked on the prosecution, people who worked on the defence, people who released the story and even the DA who forced an investigation into the Texas Rangers only to get his ass handed to him in despair. This documentary turns over every single stone possible and shows us that not every law enforcement officer is there to look out for us. Some of them just want to close their open cases and be the hero of their time - at whatever cost necessary.
Starting off with who Henry Lee Lucas was, this documentary introduces us to a formidable judicial system and a cold-blooded serial killer. This is what I enjoyed about the documentary - we are introduced to these two things and by the end of the limited series, our opinions of both of them will change entirely. The amount of politics that was involved in the Henry Lee Lucas murders made it almost impossible not to take the Texas Rangers with a pinch of salt and as we saw the case grow out of proportion, it became clearer that they were not working in the best interests of the families who had loved ones that had been killed. At the point where Henry Lee Lucas is taken away from the Texas Rangers, there becomes a political wall between the rangers and the DA. This creates vast amounts of tension and for some time, we move away from the narrative of Henry Lee Lucas. The reason being is because now the DA seems to be walking the line. The DA had lost faith in the Rangers and so, took the case from them and suffered the wrath. He was investigated, they even put him on trial. We get various flashbacks from the (now ex) DA to the DA he was back then when in power. Throughout all of this, he maintains a decorum that makes the rangers look as if they are not worthy of the power they possess since they are abusive towards it and somewhat corrupt.
When the moments with the DA’s trial are over, we return to Henry Lee Lucas and the families that have had loved ones murdered. When we take a look at the case again, there is really no way that the narrative allows us to trust the Texas Rangers anymore. But, in the pieces that flash forward to the present in which we are allowed to hear the points of view proposed by the (now ex) Texas Rangers who worked on the case - they are more than willing to accept the mistakes made by their own organisation at the time of Henry Lee Lucas’s arrest and indictment.
The documentary as a whole is an amazing limited series in which the production team realises their full potential in entertainment by challenging the audience’s viewpoint of how law enforcement should act in comparison to the way they did act. It is a brilliantly structured documentary and at no time do you feel lost in the timeline because of the way it breaks in narrative, pushes forward to the present and allows us to take in bite-sized chunks of information one at a time. Important as the message is, I think the way it is made will fascinate those who are interested in documentary film.