Far removed from the rat-a-tat repartee of a scripted TV procedural, the absorbing and provocative docu “Scenes of a Crime” deploys some 10 videotaped hours of intense and often bizarre interrogation footage to document a seemingly routine police investigation spinning absurdly out of hand. As they did in their 2003 debut, “A Certain Kind of Death,” helmers Blue Hadaegh and Grover Babcock borrow liberally from the Errol Morris nonfiction playbook; as imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, it would be a crime if the pic didn’t earn fest and tube slots.
Late on a September 2008 evening, a man named Adrian Thomas walked into an interview room at the Troy, N.Y., police station. Though he was suspected of beating his infant son to death, the pair of detectives assigned the case readily admit they didn’t know how the child had died, but didn’t want to risk losing the man they perceived as the prime suspect. To that end, they browbeat the apparently mild-mannered Thomas to the point where he signed a confession and collapsed in exhaustion.
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Relying primarily on the key passages from the two-part interrogation, Hadaegh and Babcock use this shocking visual evidence as a springboard to explore a link in the chain of American justice that is little understood, largely unregulated and dangerously abused. In interviews with the blustery and defensive detectives, players in the subsequent trial, experts in the field and, ultimately, Thomas himself, a series of twists and surprises muddy the waters even further.
Tech package is smooth and stylish, balancing the crude, fixed-camera interrogation footage with animation that underscores the oppressiveness of the rooms that encompass the scenes of this chaotically managed and far from conclusive crime.