The Staircase does a really interesting job of exploring the complicated case of Michael Peterson. In 2001, Peterson called 911 and reported that his wife had fallen down the stairs. When authorities arrived, the condition of the body and excessive amount of blood on the stairs made them think it was not an accident. This series documents the trial that followed.
The series oscillates between disbelief of Peterson (chapters 2 and 3 are particularly damning) and then succeeding belief of him. Despite filmmaker attempts at neutrality, the case ends up being very one-sided. I had a couple impressions about why this was:
- The prosecution cut off access to the film crews very early in the two years of filming. When you have extensive footage of one side of the story and hardly any of the other, it’s hard to be balanced.
- The filmmaker is French, and saw this case as a particularly egregious abuse of the American justice system.
Having read a bit more about the case on the web, I feel that the film leaned too far away from objectivity, and that I need to read more to get a better sense of the case. That said, the documentary is gripping and exciting, and well worth the 8 hours.
Jenny and I noticed something, though. You’ve got to watch out for Petersons. Case in point:
- 2001: Michael Peterson accused of killing wife Kathleen. Convicted and serving life sentence.
- 2002: Scott Peterson accused of killing wife Laci. Convicted and on death row.
- 2004, 2007: Drew Peterson currently stands accused of having killed his third and fourth wives.
More below the fold, but with spoilers galore.