UK TV review: I Am a Killer
James R | On 29, May 2018
I Am a Killer could never be accused of having a subtle title. Worded like a tabloid headline, it’s a name that promises scandal, nasty details and morally dubious people to scrutinise or judge. But the documentary series is far more nuanced than its attention-grabbing name suggests, and is all the better for it.
A co-production between A+E’s Crime + Investigation, Sky Vision and Netflix, the 10-part show delves into the world of America’s death row, divulging the stories of prisoners who are lined up behind US bars, awaiting their fate. It’s a subject that has been tackled many times before on screen, from Werner herzog’s Into the Abyss to BBC Three’s BAFTA-winning Life and Death Row, but it’s also one that bears repeat visits, particularly at a time when society has descended into a bipartisan view of the world, where everything is either indisputable truth or unofficial lies.
It opens with the story of Kenneth Foster, sentenced to death for the murder of Michael LaHood Jr. Kenneth was present at the shooting, but was ruled not to have committed the act directly – the gun was fired by Maurico Brown. Nonetheless, Foster was deemed an accomplice, placed on Death Row, and still counting down the days until his own death, following the execution of Brown several years ago. For his sentence to be commuted, or for him to be released on parole, would require the sanction of the county District Attorney, Nico LaHood – the brother of Michael.
It’s a situation that is far from clear-cut, and the hour-long chapter does a commendable, compelling job of teasing apart each perspective of events, capturing the impact of Michael’s death on both sides of the jail bars. It helps that the documentary makers have remarkable access to the prisons, able to get intimate interviews with Kenneth as well as others involved, including Nico.
The wealth of material that results from that access is a slight Achilles’ heel, with the documentary having to resort to title cards to try and tie together the slightly bitty narrative. But the episode is at its most powerful when simply focusing on Foster, his testimony filmed without fuss by a camera that deliberately frames him with the prison visitor window around him – giving him the freedom to speak while surrounding him with walls, and reinforcing the layers of perception that are inherently attached to high-profile cases. Foster’s reflections on his life, choices and how he now views what happens make for profoundly moving viewing, as the show highlights the way a single second can change the course of multiple people’s lives forever.
The programme has no over-arching argument, which may frustrate those tuning in looking for the next Making a Murderer, but I Am Not a Killer is a poignant study of guilt, justice and punishment. It’s a reminder that documentaries don’t have to campaign for something to be important, and that life is far more nuanced than news headlines, and even programme titles, suggest.
I Am a Killer is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.