In the early 80s, black children began disappearing from the streets of Atlanta, only to turn up dead later, often floating in a river. The city was outraged and the rest of the country transfixed. Wayne Williams, a young African-American oddball, was caught under suspicious circumstances, convicted and put away for life.
The problem, as this production has it, is that he didn't kill any of the victims, except maybe two or three who were already fully grown. Who did it? Well, there are the usual suspects -- the KKK and a child-pornography ring comprised of "the higher ups" -- who grabbed the first plausible black guy and "railroaded" him. The pornography ring abused the kids sexually and then murdered them and any witnesses to keep them from talking.
If there's a cliché missing, let me know. If I hit an original thought in this movie, send up a flare.
Two investigators, Hines and Belushi, are prompted by an angry black politician to look into the case four years after its close. They turn up every suspicious incident, every skulking witness, every redacted document, every despairing mother, every redneck peckerwood calling them "Boy", every bureaucratic bungle imaginable.
There's an unpleasant racist element in the movie too, made explicit by one of the relatives of a victim: "You think this would have happened if the boy was white?" I believe someone said it. I vaguely remember the case, and I recall some anger and discomfort in the black community when the perp turned out to be a black man rather than a racist white guy. I recall a similar sense of sentimental perturbation when the notorious Son of Sam in New York turned out to be named "David Berkowitze" and the sigh of relief that followed among some Jews, some of whom I number among my best friends, when it developed that David Berkowitz was his adopted name, and that he was born to an Italian couple. I ought to stop here and make it clear that I'm not going to answer accusations of racism because it's infra dig.
It's a movie that should appeal to today's audiences because of the prevailing paranoia. Is the bureaucracy sloppy and inept? You bet. They were equally inept in every investigation they undertook, from Hoover's denial that the Mafia ever existed, through the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Any paper trail will uncover as many bungles as you like. I strongly doubt that, should anyone examine your own official documents, you would turn out to be the same age, height, and appearance on all of them. Your name is probably misspelled. Some anonymous clerk somewhere must have been coming down from battery acid at one time and copied the wrong data.
Of course Williams may have been innocent of some, or even all, of the murders. The law assumes that one is either guilty or innocent, but scientists know that life is a matter of probabilities. Will the sun rise tomorrow? The only correct answer is "probably." "All The President's Men" is a sterling example of a film about a real instance of investigative journalism, classy in all its aspects. Oliver Stone's "JFK" is a jumbled mess -- and so is this.
Skip it unless you enjoy feeling enraged.