In the Land of the Free (R15)

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Review byMatthew Turner27/03/2010

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 84 mins

Engaging political documentary that tells a horrific story of injustice and is likely to make you very angry indeed, though you'll also be deeply moved by the sheer human spirit of Woodfox, Wallace and King.

What's it all about?
Directed by Vadim Jean and narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, In the Land of the Free... tells the story of the Angola 3 (Albert Woodfox, Herman Wallace and Robert King), who have spent over three decades in solitary confinement in Angola, the Louisiana state penitentiary. Just small-time criminals when they were first convicted, the three men became politicised by the Black Panther movement while in prison and campaigned for an end to the systematic rape and brutal conditions in Angola prison (built on the site of a former slave plantation).

However, in 1972, Woodfox and Wallace were charged with the murder of 23-year-old white prison guard Brent Miller and they've been in solitary confinement ever since, despite the fact that the case against them was extremely dodgy. King was linked to Miller's murder but never formally charged – he was later convicted of the 1973 murder of a fellow prisoner and remained in solitary until 2001, when he was released after pleading guilty to a lesser charge.

The Good
Vadim Jean has assembled an impressive array of talking heads, including lengthy interviews with Robert King and contributions via phone from both Wallace and Woodfox. Other notable figures include former Black Panther Malik Rahim and Miller's widow Teenie Verrett, who was just 17 at the time of the murder, but even she states that she believes Wallace and King were innocent.

To be fair, the film does include interviews with credible figures who believe that the three were guilty as charged, but at the same time, there are shocking lapses in the original case, such as a bloody fingerprint at the scene that was never identified (and didn't belong to either Wallace or Woodfox) and the key testimony of a clearly unreliable witness who subsequently received both special treatment and an eventual release.

The Bad
Jean occasionally overdoes the sentimentality with a mawkish soundtrack and some over-the-top narration from Jackson but there are also some quietly moving scenes, such as King demonstrating the toilet paper chessboards they made to pass the time.

Worth seeing?
In the Land of the Free… is a well made documentary that's likely to induce rage and tears in equal measure. Worth seeing.

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Content updated: 12/11/2019 09:12

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