Published Apr 20, 201313 years ago, Sean Clifton, a peripheral Cornwall resident known for demonstrating erratic obsessive behaviour in public locales, stabbed the "prettiest woman" he "could see" six times in front of a local Wal-Mart while uttering, "I hope you fuckin' die, cunt!".
Having reformed in the eyes of officials over a decade, Clifton has apologized to his victim—now a mother of three—and hopes to move on as a functional member of his community. Without context, this notion is as horrifying as the concept of apologizing for an attempted murder is, which is where John Kastner's balanced but somewhat inflated doc, Not Criminally Responsible steps in.
After briefly outlining the broad details of the crime and showing actual police footage of the scene—juxtaposed with some deliberately hazy, and understandably cheesy, re-creations—Kastner's argumentative, sociologically conscious talking head piece defines the "not criminally responsible" verdict and what it means for someone not to have criminal intent.
Most of the runtime is spent with Clifton and his paranoid, delusional roommate, deconstructing and analyzing the nature of mental illness. His sober reflections of the experience detail an uncontrollable compulsion, which is then, in suggestion and content mirroring, attributed to an upbringing by a depressive mother, left out of the normal spectrum of social activity by sheer virtue of difference.
As positioned by the Emmy-winning director—who has a history of making docs about the nature of murder and conscious states—the perpetrator here is a society that condemns and mocks those unable to perform an arbitrary, yet rigid, status quo. But more than a mere blame piece, NCR creates a balanced perspective on the complexity of handling mental illness and dangerous offenders in modern society.
Even though Clifton has proven a willingness to get better and stay on track, it is all reliant on his maintaining a daily drug intake and avoiding extreme emotional situations; something that may not be possible in a society unlikely to embrace a disheveled man demonstrating obsessive compulsive indicators in public spaces.
Kastner waxes idealistic by showing people approach Clifton and empathize with his plight but, in reality, the actions of people not knowingly on camera aren't going to be quite as compassionate.
It's also interesting that Kastner saved elaborating on the details of the crime and the inevitable apology—given some inside perspective by interviews with the victim and her family—until after the aggressor was portrayed as a victim of social pressures and mental illness. As an audience, we're manipulated into forced identification and understanding with the documentary subject to create added balance in the arguments for and against reformation and the freedom of those not entirely in control of their own actions.
This, in addition to some lethargic pacing, is what keeps NCR from being the incisive social deconstruction it intends to be. The decision to bookend everything with the crime itself may serve a litigious purpose of swaying opinion but could alienate those less likely to digest everything presented as is without inserting negated stimuli and influence.