Finding Kendrick Johnson is an interesting true crime documentary. The case follows a young man that was found dead in 2013. Though it was quickly ruled an accidental death, Kendrick’s family thought something was wrong. They soon discover that not only is something wrong, but things go much deeper than they ever imagined. The documentary is the culmination of a four year investigation that results in some shocking discoveries.
True crime documentaries follow a certain pattern. There is the introduction to the mystery and characters, a summary of the facts and questions, and a wild twist, followed by the conclusion. For the most part, Finding Kendrick Johnson follows this formula. The discovery of Kendrick and the aftermath will keep the audience riveted and there is a head turning twist towards the end.
The film also goes into the history of Valdosta, Georgia and ties it into Kendrick’s death. These are some of the most powerful parts of Finding Kendrick Johnson. There are some shocking photos that will catch the audience off guard. (The film definitely needs a warning.) The documentary revisits the racial tensions in the country many times through photos and video over the past century.
This may be the most polarizing part of Finding Kendrick Johnson. It is clear what point the film is trying to make. There are strong examples and images that will move anyone who sees them. It is also a very important message that needs to be heard. The racial inequality of the American justice system is something that flares up every few years in the national consciousness before being put back on the back burner. It is unfortunate that these moments end up hindering everything the documentary is trying to say.
The mystery is an interesting one. One of the police investigating the case refers to the case as “slightly puzzling”. Downright perplexing would be more accurate. And this is before a shocking second autopsy and the suspects are introduced. Though Finding Kendrick Johnson makes the odd choice to reveal the killer early, the case is never stops being interesting. Like the best true crime docs, there is an element of “stranger than fiction”.
It is also told in a way that gets its overall message across. The death of a young Black man and a possible cover-up by the white police force speaks volumes. The pictures and footage shown highlight how the problem only seems to be getting worse, but it will come off as too much for some. These moments end up diluting the effect of the rest of Finding Kendrick Johnson.
True crime may be incredibly popular, but there is no doubting the sameness of many of them. Finding Kendrick Johnson is able to do things differently. It delivers a message that will resonate for many. It also almost feels like two different films at the time. Individually, both are captivating; together, they take away from each other. It is a complicated watch that may have been better served as two separate films.
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