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  • The movie presents chilling portraits of evil. Two career criminals commit capital crimes against innocent victims who are described with respect and sympathy. After setting fire to the crime scene, the murderers flee but waiting police capture them almost immediately. Viewers learn the murderers' backgrounds but are left to weigh factors that might have contributed to wilful depravity.

    The documentary suggests that police could have done more to avoid the deadly outcome. For almost 30 minutes, police observed the victims' home but took no actions. They chose not to enter the house, despite knowing the woman and her two children were captive. A victims' relative thought police intended to keep an intact perimeter to ensure capture of the criminals. Rescuing victims seemed secondary.

    Whether police actions were excusable or not is uncertain but it is certain that officials refused to be accountable for their decisions. Transcripts of conversations involving police were almost entirely redacted and, according to the filmmakers, officials would not respond to family letters nor make comments that were anything more than tasteless self-congratulations.

    Ultimately, the program turns to capital punishment. Suffering family members take positions in the film in favour while other voices counter the arguments. This not a definitive examination of the death penalty but filmmakers note that a possibility of death sentences, while failing to deter the killers, was a complicating factor at trial. But for it, the case would have been resolved in weeks instead of years.

    The film is a balanced examination of the crime, the criminals, the victims and the justice institutions. I was intrigued also by the subtle review of religion. It offered comfort to victims but was shown as a contributor to the personal disintegration of a youthful killer whose adoptive parents had refused him recommended therapy, opting instead for bible camp, hoping prayer would be corrective.

    A solid and moving effort.
  • qed7728 July 2013
    Warning: Spoilers
    I thought that the documentary was very clever in exposing the incompetence of the police without actually stating it. The cover-up of that incompetence was also exposed as endless blacked out pages could be seen.

    Let's see now ...

    While the police waited outside: 1. The daughters were sexually assaulted 2. The daughters were burned alive 3. The wife was strangled 4. The wife's corpse was "raped" 5. The house was torched It should be noted that if the badly injured husband had been unable to get himself out of the house, he likely would have burned alive too.

    After the event, we are told that the well-trained police did a wonderful job. Without their efforts, things could have been worse. How exactly? I noted that large portions of the police report were blacked out. I guess that they were covering their @$$e$.

    It seems that people were so distracted by the brutality of the crime that they had no mental energy left to question the conduct of the police at the scene.

    One or more of them should be fired.
  • The Cheshire Murders (2013)

    **** (out of 4)

    Rather brutal and haunting documentary taking a look the brutal beating and murders of a family in Cheshire, CT. The story gained national attention as Dr. Petit was severely beaten while his wife and two young daughters were raped and eventually died from being set on fire. The culprits were two men who had just been released from prison and followed the mother and youngest girl from a grocery store. The documentary covers the family and their lives before this incident and of course we then take a look at the tragedy itself. This was the first time I had been given any great details on the subject and I must admit that it was quite ugly and brutal. I really understand why many people wouldn't want to watch anything involving a young child being raped and murdered so if people feel the subject matter is too strong then they certainly should stay away. The film is also pretty scary because it shows that you can be doing something as simple as getting groceries and not realize that there are a couple maniacs about to follow you home. The film gives us interviews with some lawyer attached to the case as well as family members of the victims as well as a couple people who knew the killers. There's also a portion of the film that follows Dr. Petit as he tries to get the state not to "kill off" the death penalty because this is what he wants the killers to get. The film is very forward and straight in regards to telling the story. I like how the director's really don't pick a side in regards to the death penalty but instead just shows the impact that everything has. I personally agreed that these two scumbags should die but then seeing what the family had to endure with a trial made me have second thoughts. THE CHESHIRE MURDERS is a terrific film but the subject matter is quite disturbing so it's certainly going to be up to the viewer on whether they can make it through.
  • a_baron16 December 2014
    On July 22, 2007, William Petit was a successful doctor, living the dream with his wife and two daughters in the Connecticut town of Cheshire, population circa 29,000. By the following night he was lying in a hospital bed battered and beaten. Far, far worse, he was a widower, the lives of his wife and both daughters snuffed out by two lowlifes whose crime was as shocking as any we have come to see in this at times cruel world. Even his home had been burned out, and the psychological trauma he and his immediate family suffered does not bear thinking about.

    This HBO documentary begins with the aftermath of the crime and ends with the trial of Joshua Komisarjevsky; both men were sentenced to death. It contains some unpleasant footage but no autopsy photos or reconstructions. Remarkably it manages to cover the case from all angles speaking to the father of Jennifer Hawke-Petit, the daughter and both brothers of killer Steven Hayes, and the youthful girlfriend of his partner-in-crime along with the defense attorneys of both men and the prosecution. The latter's love interest spoke candidly; she said Komisarjevsky liked to tie her up. In this day and age there is nothing shocking about this revelation, but tying up an 11 year old girl, raping her and setting her on fire is no sane person's idea of kinky sex.

    The family of Hayes have mixed feelings, his young daughter Alicia feels sorry for him while his brothers believe he should be executed. Although Hayes is the older man, there is little doubt that Komisarjevsky has earned himself a hotter spot in Hell; he was said always to have had a preference for young girls; one contributor to this film said he told Komisarjevsky he was a paedophile; if he were not then, he is now. At the penalty phase of his trial, the claim was made that he was sexually abused as a child; this claim appears to be true, but it mitigates how? More interestingly, Komisarjevsky is said to have a photographic memory and to be a talented artist, the drawings displayed here are certainly evidence of such talent; it's just a pity he had to squander it.

    It seems unlikely now that either man will be executed. Not mentioned here is the fact that Hayes has boasted of committing many other murders, but this may simply be bravado.

    There is a lot more in this documentary, and some people may find it too much for their sensibilities, but it is a remarkable work that deserves a wide audience.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Living one town away from Cheshire, I was actually looking forward to watching this film. Discovering a new perspective on a horrible crime that rocked our area. Instead I got a badly shot (really, how many tops of buildings and rain puddles do we need to see?), lethargically paced, incomplete snooze-fest.

    There are no actual new interviews with Dr. Petit, the lone survivor of this horrible home invasion. No cops speak. (This despite the dropped hint that they waited much to long to enter the house. That the filmmakers could not get one city or state cop on camera to discuss this is just lazy filmmaking.) Prosecutor? Nope. One of the jurors? Not a chance. Okay, then what about the Komisarjevsky and Hayes, on death row? What would they have to say? Would they be remorseful? No idea, they're not interviewed.

    Instead we mostly follow the parents and sister of Jennifer Hawke-Petit around. And while they are very nice people, and I feel such sympathy for their tragedy, they are not captivating subjects.

    About the only worthwhile interview in the entire film was that of Hayes defense attorney Thomas Ullmann. He was captivating, sincere and informative. The complete opposite was Komisarjevsky's attorney Walter Bansley III. He sort of made you want to take a shower after listening to him speak. He was wonderfully clueless of Dr. Petit's pain. Perhaps if the filmmakers had interviewed just these two men and let them each tell one side of the story from two very different perspectives, THAT would have been a film worth watching. But the film we were given was not. (A little shocked that HBO would air such a mess. But then the ratings were guaranteed.) As for structure, there is none. The film meanders all over the place, from the night of, to puddles, to court, to lingering shots of the tops of buildings in New Haven. Most filmmakers know there's a three act structure in story-telling for a reason. And if you break it you better have a damn good reason. Shoddy filmmaking is not one of them. This is filmmaking 101 at its worst.

    The information compiled in The Cheshire Murders would perhaps make a fine 30 minute short. But as a 2-hour film is was unforgivably boring. A Dateline special on NBC would have been better made.
  • After I finished watching this film, I kept asking myself 'what was its purpose?' It didn't give us any new insight into this horrendous crime, it just made us remember what many are trying to forget.

    It scared me all over again and I found myself checking the locks and closing the windows. I agree that it was just lazy film making and not up to the documentaries that HBO has sponsored in the past. No one of any real importance allowed themselves to be interviewed except the creepy defense attorney's who, let's face it, LOVE any PRESS! It was like an NYU Film grad went to the library and edited all the news clips and still shots they could find. If you're going to take on such a sensitive subject of life and death, do it so we learn something from it...
  • I'm not sure what the theory behind this doc was supposed to be (as in, why was this made other than a rehashing of the facts)... I'm so jaded after watching so many documentaries that I believed that it was going to be a turn of events and the husband was going to have something to do with it, but no... It's just a straight retelling of a horrible horrible crime—nothing but the facts, ma'am. Was it to show that the Cheshire police were so inept that they should be held accountable? Was it to advocate for right-to-die laws? Who knows. Neither was presented with enough impact to make the viewer feel like that was their intention. The narrative was all over the place and all I got from this doc was a feeling of hopelessness.
  • This well-balanced film documents a horrific crime committed by 2 career criminals, one only 26 yrs. old and the mastermind of the subject crime.

    I won't give away details of the film as others have already described very eloquently. I disagree that there was nothing to be learned from this documentary. It made me think more about capital punishment, the adoption and foster system and abuse of children and how they might be helped before spiralling out of control.

    Valid points were made on both sides, the defense and prosecution. My heart goes out to all families related to this crime.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Such a sad documentary of a subject that needs to be heard!! I am beyond infuriated by the way this case was handled by the local police! They have to carry some kind of guilt after their inactions that day. Very great story line of that horrendous day!
  • This documentary explores some compelling subjects around The Cheshire home invasion murders. 1) Police cover-up. The police were outside the residence for a full half hour and took no action until the criminals fled the home. They could have prevented most of the crime. Why? We can only speculate. 2) Death penalty. Death penalty is a controversial subject. One thing that's stressed in the movie, regardless of whether you're pro- or anti- , is that it's a very lengthy and expensive process. The system is broken. 3) Background of the murderers. We learn about their early lives, their motivations, etc. The conclusions that I've made: a history of mental illness and child abuse played a crucial role. They don't justify any of the crimes, but does bring into light the importance of treating mental illness and about the consequences of child abuse.

    We also learn, in as much detail as possible, how the entire incident played out. We also learn about the victims and victims' family. This is all through interviews with many people. It's tragic, emotional, and from a documentary film perspective it's informative, interesting and somewhat impartial.

    Last words: People who already know all about the Cheshire murders may not get the interviews and new information they expect. So if that's you, then maybe this documentary will be a disappointment. I'd never heard of these murders before, so it was all very interesting. There was not a moment in those 2 hours when I felt bored.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Watch the cool headed husband Mr. Petit make it sole mission in life to see justice done after they raped and murdered his family, including the 11 yo daughter, setting her on fire withal she was still alive. Petit will not stop until he sees it through, and he does. It's hard to imagine what put it in the minds of the killers to do such a thing. Why not just give yourself up? Did the police have more time to act? Maybe, but in the heat of battle I believe they were trying to figure out what was going on.

    Very well shot. Not overly dramatized.

    Watch the amazing job they do on the plastic surgery for Pete's head, who was pummeled with a baseball bat.

    Spoiler alert, happy ending, both scumbags get the chair!