While far less partisan than his previous pic, “Waco: Rules of Engagement,” filmmaker William Gazecki’s provocative “Reckless Indifference” eventually reveals a seething anger at an increasingly inflexible American legal system. First appearing to represent modest reportage of a tragic 1995 murder case involving six teen boys in an L.A. suburb, Gazecki’s work builds an impassioned, blatantly slanted account of a trial that sent youngsters to prison for life. More in the tradition of Emile DeAntonio’s work and other politicized nonfiction of the ’60s than the kind of true-crime mellers that weekly issue forth on cable, docu should find a responsive distrib able to handle the explosive material, followed by a strong ancillary life.
The story’s preface indicates where Gazecki’s heart lies, as attorney Alan Dershowitz insists that the convictions were “not proportional” and private investigator Patrick Sullivan bluntly states that “the authorities wanted to screw these kids.” Still, the events leading to the murder of Jimmy Farris and near-fatal wounding of Mike McLoren are described with sober patience.
Gazecki incorporates talking-heads accounts from parents, friends, attorneys, reporters and investigators; a series of scanned photos of the shack-like “clubhouse” out of which McLoren dealt pot; several staged re-creations of described events; and exclusive video of convicted youth Tony Miliotti giving his account to state Sen. Tom Hayden, gathering evidence for reform of California’s felony/murder rule, which enforces heightened penalties when murder is committed in the course of a felony act. This range of visual material, supported by an itchy, minimalist guitar score by Ashley Witt that evokes the anomie of lost teen boys, lifts docu to the level of rich, textured cinema.
The background and tragic events form a sad, suburban tale. McLoren, like the rest of the youths, attended Agoura High School, and had a rep for dealing and giving away cannabis. His pal and so-called bodyguard was Farris. Both knew Miliotti, Brandon Hein, brothers Jason and Micah Holland and Chris Velardo. They were all the kind of bored kids who would be right at home in an early Richard Linklater movie.
A hot day in 1995 saw the Holland brothers, Miliotti, Hein and Velardo hanging out with friends, getting drunk, driving around Agoura and winding up at McLoren’s clubhouse. Without witnesses, and with only Miliotti — drunk, dazed and confused at the time — coming close to a detailed description of what happened, the boys’ motives are never clear.
In a flurry of shouting and fighting, McLoren and Farris were both stabbed. Farris bled to death, while McLoren, who was saved on a UCLA operating table, fingered the Hollands and Miliotti as the perps to LAPD investigators.
Farris’ father, Jim Sr., is an LAPD cop (though not a detective, as he is identified onscreen), and this fact alone generates great suspicion — voiced by defense attorneys, the parents of the accused, investigator Patrick Sullivan and Rolling Stone reporter Randall Sullivan (credited as a co-producer) — that the D.A.’s office was pressured for convictions, with Farris Sr. supposedly enjoying extraordinary access to authorities and attorneys.
In other words, Gazecki’s film indicates, here was a kangaroo court dominated by a D.A.’s office obsessed with not losing another high-profile case, a la O.J. And win it did, using the felony/murder rule to send the Holland brothers and Miliotti to prison for life. Like “Waco,” docu argues a point of view for which there’s likely a potent counter-argument, which receives only lip service here.
This is activist journalism, designed to stir up popular support for appeal of the convictions. If, as Dershowitz notes, the jury was “terrorized” by prosecutors into thinking that they were judging violent gangbangers, Gazecki makes no effort to interview jurors to confirm or deny this account. The grieving Farrises are the docu’s only emotional counterbalance to a drumbeat message that injustice was done in this case. “Reckless Indifference” drives the anger home with unswerving conviction, even if you doubt the film has all the facts on its side.