Crime After Crime, the unforgettable story of a battered woman trapped in a not-so-just criminal justice system, isn’t a visual masterpiece, but this emotionally affecting documentary will move you like few films this year, thanks to a luminous heroine and an unlikely but appealing trio who work tirelessly to release her from prison.
Director Yoav Potash’s labor of love chronicles the fate of Debbie Peagler, a Los Angeles-area woman who was incarcerated in 1983 (after being threatened by prosecutors with the death penalty) for her somewhat vague connection to the murder of ex-boyfriend Oliver Wilson, who had repeatedly beaten her, forced her into prostitution and sexually abused their daughter.
About two decades later, as Peagler still languishes at Chowchilla, land-use attorneys Joshua Safran and Nadia Costa (galvanized by a new state law that factors domestic abuse into appeals) take up her case pro bono, with the help of private investigator Bobby Buechler.
The numerous twists and turns that follow never fail to be engrossing, whether it’s the astonishing revelations of wrongdoing in the justice system, or the personal stories of those fighting against it.
Throughout the film, Peagler is a model of grace, restraint and heartbreaking inspiration.
My only beef is that Potash doesn’t have adequate footage to support the beginning of the story, which makes the details of Peagler’s upbringing — and the original crime itself — a bit jumbled. It’s the only time his (wise) decision not to use narration works against him.
But in the end, these are quibbles. This film delivers an emotional wallop, and it’s hard to argue against that. Rent it, buy it, download it, borrow it from a friend — find someway to see it.