Viewer’s Discretion: ‘Casting JonBenet’ and ‘Hard Sun’


There’s a surge in interest in true crime, and the deluge has revealed more than a few people creating works about a specific crime that don’t seem to know what makes true crime an alluring subject. Hint — it’s not just about the crime, it’s about the people.

And I don’t mean only the people’s stories in the proximity of the crime, but the byways that you go on because of the central story of the crime. This was best illustrated in fiction last year with the revived “Twin Peaks” series, and “Casting JonBenet” provides a similar treatment in documentary form.

Actually, calling it a documentary isn’t quite right. Maybe “non-fiction-based exploration of how we settle on the truth” fits better. Regardless, it’s the kind of movie that I can’t imagine you can plan in the traditional sense, but the journey your filmmaking becomes is part of what viewers will see in the final presentation.

“Casting JonBenet” only marginally tells you facts about the actual murder of JonBenet Ramsey. Most of the information is related through conversations with actors auditioning for roles in a drama about the crime. That film is fictional, a conceit that director Kitty Green uses to bring together actors in the Colorado area — where the crime was committed — to sit down and talk about their views on the case.

Some of the actors have actual connections to people involved with the case, while others encountered it as part of the local gossip that extends out of any tragedy. After the people explain their proximity to the crime, their impressions and theories follow, exhibiting varying levels of empathy and outlandishness, and revealing the way we take in mass media information, process it and express it back for our own purposes. Sometimes it’s absurd, sometimes creepy.

And then they reveal circumstances of their own lives that are at points alarming and sad, as they try to focus in on understanding the characters they are auditioning to play.

This is a fascinating film and to me a gold standard for how true crime can be presented. Green understands how people think, how media works, how tragedy can reveal something about any of us regardless of our proximity to it.


There’s been no shortage of apocalyptic TV shows since 9–11, but there’s something different about “Hard Sun,” like there’s something special in the air now. I’m sure we all feel it, that mix of foreboding on a grand scale and the confusion to parse what we’re supposed to do about it.

“Hard Sun” concerns two British police officers who find themselves faced with knowledge of a government cover-up about the end of the world. DCI Charlie Hicks (Jim Sturgess) is a swaggering, slightly bent cop, who may have killed his ex-partner. DI Elaine Renko (Agyness Deyn) is his new partner, a focused and damaged person, who also has the secret extra-curricular job of investigating Hicks.

When they discover evidence of Hard Sun, an end-of-the-world scenario that gives civilization five years tops, they are faced with figuring out what they are supposed to do with that information. They must also deal with Grace Morrigan (Nikki Amuka-Bird), the deliciously calm and conniving government operative who is maneuvering the cops to destroy each other in a bid to stop the leak.But Hicks and Renko have their own problems, too. And crimes to stop. There are still crimes, and they’re just getting weirder, with the paranoia and nihilism that the Hard Sun revelation unleashes infecting the unhinged further and spurring them into action.

If you’re looking for a high-octane show that focuses on stopping the end of the world, “Hard Sun” is probably not for you. It is, at its heart, a police procedural. Instead, “Hard Sun” is focused on dealing with the fallout of an impending end of the world, and juggling it with the terrible stuff that was already there. It’s a brooding affair that suggests that in a world spiraling out of control, the best we can do is palliative care, to smooth out the bumpy ride we’re all destined to endure until everything stops.

Originally published at

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