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‘The State of Texas vs. Melissa’ review: Documentary spreads same sad message

Another reminder, but do we need it?

Some documentaries are almost impossible to watch. It has nothing to do with awful production values or unlikable subjects. Some docs remind the audience of how uncaring and corrupt the justice system can be. It is the type of fear that even the masters of horror are unable to replicate. It is the type of thing everyone knows, but does not want to be reminded about.

The State of Texas vs. Melissa is the story of Melissa Lucio. The mother of fourteen children, Lucio was convicted of killing her two year old daughter. Documentarian Sabrina Van Tassel goes about to prove how Melissa may be innocent. The case is an interesting one. There is the sensational aspect of the case, but that is not what makes the film so intriguing. The State of Texas vs. Melissa touches on how violence can be passed on through generations. More obviously, it shows how it can destroy a family. 

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The State of Texas vs. Melissa also has the drama that is often found in cases like this. There is a prosecutor who is up for reelection and an investigation that is seemingly riddled with inconsistencies. The documentary even offers up a possible explanation as to what really happened. It is the same moving parts that are to be expected in this type of story. Unfortunately, it is not as polished as some of its contemporaries.

Ultimately, things fall flat in the last part of the film. There is a rushed feel as almost too much information is packed in. The State of Texas vs. Melissa also does not seem to know how it wants to present Lucio. She alternates between being portrayed as unsympathetic and being too gentle to commit such a violent crime. True, whether a person is “good” or not has little to do with guilt or innocence, but in this case, it goes against one of the points being made.

The State of Texas vs. Melissa is another sad look at the justice system in the country. It seems like there are loads of cases with prosecutors with misplaced priorities, uncaring defense attorneys, and investigators who are rushed to solve cases. The documentary has a interesting story to tell, it just does not seem to know how to do it.

The State of Texas vs Melissa will be available On Demand October 20.

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