Scenes of a Crime


A nonfiction corrective to decades of cop-friendly pop-culture conditioning, this rigorously focused documentary looks hard at police interrogation, a process most of us take for granted. Instead of the upright professionalism and salty compassion we’re accustomed to from books, movies, and especially TV shows, Scenes of a Crime uncovers a nasty tangle of macho bluster and rote bureaucratic indifference. For their case study, directors Blue Hadaegh and Grover Babcock use the ordeal of Adrian Thomas, an upstate New York father whose infant son was hospitalized with brain trauma quickly (and erroneously) attributed to abuse. Lured by local police detectives into a semi-confession after hours of badgering, Thomas later recanted—a move supported by both medical evidence and videotape of the exhausting-by-design interrogation. What’s remarkable about Scenes of a Crime, besides Hadaegh and Babcock’s ability to stay out of the way of their story and resist flashy graphical flourishes, is the degree to which the events it reveals are business as usual. “When we’re speaking to you,” one of the detectives confides nonchalantly to the filmmakers, “we’re of course lying.” Clips from interrogation-training videos and the footage of Thomas’s grilling bear this out—the cops confuse and cajole him with impunity, and their quest to fulfill a “theory of conclusion” comes off as state-sanctioned sport. It’s a frightening, infuriating glimpse into a procedure most of us, hopefully, will never endure, and with luck (and wider distribution) Scenes of a Crime could have a similar social impact as Frederick Wiseman’s Titicut Follies.