Directed by: Joshua Rofé
As the documentary Lost for Life was being filmed, the Supreme Court of America was considering whether or not mandatory life with parole sentences for teenagers convicted of murder constituted cruel and unusual punishment. Lost for Life positions itself as a neutral movie – providing the story of the several men, now in their 20s, who have been sentenced as such for crimes committed when they were 15, 16 or 17 – as well as the family of some of the victims of such crimes. But it isn’t really a neutral documentary at all – it spends far more time with the convicted killers than it does with the victim’s family, and I cannot help but wonder if they didn’t handpick the ones they wanted to help make their point clearly. Lost for Life quite clearly believes that these young men deserve at least a chance at freedom again at some point in their life – that one act shouldn’t condemn them to life, and that because they are so young, they may well be rehabilitated in prison – something that life without parole makes moot. But just because the movie is more biased than it pretends to be, doesn’t mean the documentary is meaningless. And even if they have handpicked the young men to show in the documentary to better make their point, it still does make their point effectively – after all, if there are a few people who may deserve a second chance outside of prison, perhaps there are many more among the thousands of teenagers who have been sentenced to life without parole.
Lost for Life doesn’t shrink away from the crimes committed by the young men they portray. They have them tell the camera what they did in as much detail as they can remember – and most of them remember a great deal. In the one case where the memory of the convicted killer fails – he says it’s blurry in his memory – the movie uses video and audio evidence to fill in the gaps. In that case, two young men were convicted of the crime – the one whose memory is hazy at least is trying to take full responsibility for his actions – and doesn’t try to downplay his involvement. The other teenager is exactly the opposite – even five years later he places all the blame on his co-defendant, and his family protests his innocence, even though we hear some pretty clear evidence that he was more involved than he wants to admit – perhaps even to himself.
Another young man has been convicted of murdering his mother and step father – and even if he suffered for years under these two, who abused him physically, sexually and emotionally, he is still in jail for life. He is much more matter of fact about his crime – at times, it’s actually a little creepy, and I am not as convinced as the movie appears to be about his new, more positive outlook on life.
Lost for Life is not a great documentary. It actually plays very much like a CNN special report that you see on the network late at night when you can’t sleep. However, I always liked those CNN special reports – so for the most part, I found Lost for Life fascinating. As a movie, it plays it safe – but it’s effective. The movie is short at 75 minutes – but that is about the length the movie needs to be. The movie is decent for what it is – nothing more, nothing less.