A taut police procedural tracing the frantic search for a serial rapist who terrorized a Miami community in the summer of 2003, “Code 33” is a bracing jolt of reality TV-style filmmaking for auds weary of the genre’s shallow excesses. This smart and shrewd docu, which has already garnered praise at a handful of fests, is first-rate fare for arthouse play, tube sales and ancillary.
Husband-and-wife helming team of Michael Galinsky and Suki Hawley raised eyebrowswith their 2002 docu “Horns and Halos” about an ill-fated bio of George W. Bush and the mysterious death of its luckless author. Like that film, “Code 33” exhibits an invigorating attention to detail and no-nonsense narrative confidence that immediately lifts it above the pack of over-pumped and blatantly manipulative skeins such as the “CSI” franchise and “Cops.”
First conceived as a series-length tube profile of attractive and straight-talking forensic artist Samantha Steinberg, pic shifted gears when a string of seven rapes, against women ranging in age from 11 to 79, begin to attract national attention.
Using an offscreen rapport with victims that attracted her to the helmers, Steinberg produces three sketches that become the focal point of an at-first fruitless search. Pic then focuses on the meticulous, day-to-day grunt work of affable Cuban-American detectives Fernando Bosch and Elio “Chills” Tamayo, working to apprehend the perpetrator. Career cops and devoted family men, the two hit the streets to take DNA samples from anybody who even remotely resembles the sketches — their only real investigative option — prompting a firestorm of criticism for profiling.
Soon the cops are frustrated, the community is outraged and the media is impatient. When a routine traffic stop finally yields a suspect subsequently confirmed by DNA evidence, Miami breathes a collective sigh of relief and each participant returns to the more mundane aspects of their jobs.
A sterling example of the luck and skill necessary to have cameras rolling in the right place at the right time, pic exhibits an intimacy with the investigative process born of a year’s negotiation for access with the Miami and Miami-Dade County police departments. In a climactic encounter too good to have been scripted, the camera observes the suspect’s impromptu confession in a stairwell — followed by a tearful apology to the stone-faced and unforgiving police chief.
Tech credits are pro down the line, led by the patient, seamless work of the helming quintet, and Suki Hawley’s firm, intuitive editing. Miami native and Steinberg pal David Beilinson, who also has a “developed by” credit here, co-produced “Horns and Halos” and worked with team newcomer Zachary M. Werner on the PBS series “In the Mix.” Score by Phillip Quinaz and David Reid is flavorful and atmospheric without becoming intrusive.