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Code 33
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by Scott Weinberg

"Here's the real-life stuff that begets all your favorite TV Cop Shows."
5 stars

SCREENED VIA THE 2005 SXSW FILM FESTIVAL: There's an obvious reason why the TV show "Cops" has been around for so many years: most people are fascinated by true-life police work. But if you stuck a video camera on to the average policeman's shoulder, you'd probably end up watching hours of dreary nights and stacks of paperwork. Which is why "Cops" is nothing but a collection of drunk wife-batterers and coked-out idiots: it's the only part of police work that's FUN to watch! Improving upon the "Cops" concept by about a million degrees is the excellent new documentary "Code 33," which gives the viewer full access to the Miami Police Department as they struggle to bring one serial rapist to justice.

A group of filmmakers were planning to make a documentary about forensic artist Samantha Steinberg when something a little more urgent came over the wire: there's a rapist on the loose in the streets of Miami. The attack of an 11-year-old girl was tied to an assault case from one month prior, and the detectives quickly realized they were dealing with a repeat offender.

How the four filmmakers were able to acquire such all-encompassing access to the subsequent manhunt is impressive in and of itself, but the resulting footage is even better. We get to know the lead detectives on the case inside and out, two normal-Joe cops who head off to work every morning. Only for these guys, "work" means "find this rapist before someone else gets attacked." No pressure there...

The media flurries, the justifiably concerned community, the victim's families, the well-intentioned enforcers of the law, heck, even America's Most Wanted gets involved, and .they're all covered here equally, and (to the film's inestimable credit) there's no sense of subjectivity, agenda, or "leading the audience" in one direction or another. Comments regarding the police force's mishandling of an earlier attack are presented candidly, while the next scene focuses on the sincere sense of determination of Miami's finest. Some mistakes are made and some victories come entirely by chance. Just like real life.

The second best thing a documentary can do is tell a great story. The single best thing? Tell that story with truth and objectivity. Code 33 scores high grades on both counts. It's got the drive of true drama - because this is a fascinating story. But it's also the best sort of documentary because it just delivers the goods in a succinct and matter-of-fact fashion. Like I said, it's what Cops would be if the producers of Cops were fans of well-crafted storytelling.

The "Code 33" directors were in the right place at the right time to capture this specific story. And they did a damn fine job with what must have been a terribly 'on-the-fly' type of production. Oh, and if you're still wondering about forensic artist Samantha Steinberg, don't worry. She still manages to shine in a supporting role.

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originally posted: 02/23/05 15:36:29
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 SXSW Film Festival. For more in the 2005 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Atlanta Film Festival For more in the 2005 Atlanta Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

3/22/05 Cheri Best documentary I've ever seen! 5 stars
3/17/05 wrslrntx Unbelievable story, incredible they got as much access as they did 5 stars
3/14/05 pooper Interesting stuff, but not what I would call the perfect documentary. 3 stars
3/01/05 Jorge Molina a candid portrayal of investigative entities 5 stars
3/01/05 Amber Collins A true behind the scenes look. A+++ 5 stars
2/11/05 Brian Clay A tension-packed fly-on-the-wall look at what "real" crime fighting is all about. 5 stars
2/11/05 Jose M. Barrios Best documentary in a long time. 5 stars
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Directed by
  David Beilinson
  Michael Galinsky
  Suki Hawley / Zach Werner

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