Friday, September 9, 2016

Now on Netflix: The Witness (2016)

The Witness movie poster
The Witness (2016) - Directed by James D. Solomon

By Kenny Howell

Around 50 years ago, Kitty Genovese was walking home when she was brutally murdered by a man in the middle of the street in Queens, an attack that lasted for several minutes.

She screamed out for help but no one came to help her or call the police. A huge number of people heard her cries, but did nothing.

For years, this story has been talked about in popular culture, sociology classes, and has been a model for human apathy. The HBO series Girls even featured it as an art installation that Adam was participating in last season.

Turns out, all of it might not be true.

In The Witness, Kitty's brother William sets out to find the truth about her murder. Did 50 or so people just stand by and let Kitty die in the street? We may never know exactly what happened, but in a word, no, that's not what happened.

William visits with the people that were there in Queens the night Kitty died. The truth is a lot more complicated, but that didn't sell the story at the time. The New York Times, which has since admitted that there was faulty reporting on the story, ran the story that said that all those people stood by as Kitty died. That's what made it stick because it was the paper of record, and no one really questioned it. But there were people there trying to help her, and William gets to the bottom of it as much as he can.

I think The Witness works better as an examination of a brother's grief than an actual mystery. Kitty's murder shaped William's life drastically, affected all the choices he made from there on out, some with tragic consequences. That it turns out that it could not be true is a tough thing to deal with for anyone, and William is honest while he works through it.

Some of The Witness feels a bit stagey, but it doesn't take away from William's story too much. It's an interesting look at him through the lens of one of the more famous sociological stories of our time, whether it is true or not.

The Witness is now streaming on Netflix.

Rating: ***

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