Monday, 24 June 2013
Dirty Little Secret (3¾ Stars)
This film, the true story of the relationship of Jodi Arias and Travis Alexander, is difficult for me to rate because I sat down to watch it with a certain amount of bias. I watched the murder trial for almost five months, so I'm well aware of the facts. To give a fair rating I would have to stand back and put myself into the position of someone who knows little or nothing of the story. I think the story could have been filmed better, and I actually hope it will be remade, since it's a story worth telling. With an improved screenplay it could be the "Fatal Attraction" of the 21st Century.
The film is divided into three parts:
1. The relationship (60 minutes)
2. The last day, including the murder (10 minutes)
3. The trial (10 minutes)
The first part, the relationship, takes up the bulk of the film. It's very enjoyable. In my opinion it captures the essence of the relationship perfectly. Jodi was an oppressive lover, burning with jealousy if another woman as much as talked to Travis. Travis was a young man struggling to balance his religious faith with his sexual desires. Although Travis probably wasn't a virgin when they met, Jodi was the sexual aggressor who introduced him to things he had never dreamt of before. She was too much for the Mormon boy to handle. Even when he realised that she wasn't the right woman for him and broke up with her he couldn't resist her when she came back for new sexual encounters. Some people call Travis a religious hypocrite. I say that those people are the hypocrites themselves. They should recognise human nature, or rather male nature, for what it is. If I had been in Travis' position I would have been just as helpless in Jodi's hands.
The second part is acceptable, as it is, although the drama of the stabbing itself seems subdued. I would have preferred this part to be filmed differently, showing the whole round trip from California to Arizona and back, not just the one day. I'll describe this more in connection with the third part, except to point out one inaccuracy in the film. When Jodi visits Travis she says it's to say goodbye because she is leaving Arizona. At this time she had actually already left Arizona and was living in California. Her only intention in visiting him was to kill him.
The third part, the trial, is muddled. It looks like random scenes were stuffed together at the last minute because someone heard about them in the real life trial and thought "It would be nice to include that as well". For instance, I doubt that anyone who doesn't know about the case would understand why there's a flashback to Jodi screwing on her car license plate upside down. In the trial scenes it's not obvious that Jennifer Willmott is the defence attorney. This could have been done better by fleshing out the last two parts.
The second part should have started with Jodi faking a burglary at her grandmother's house. Then it should have shown her preparations. The phone calls arranging to meet her lover in Utah. The gas cans. The road trip. Turning her cell phone off. Then the sex and the murder. Getting rid of the murder weapons. And finally the continued trip to Utah and having sex with the other man the same day that she had killed Travis.This might all be confusing, but it could be explained by the words of the prosecutor in the third part.
The trial phase of the film deserves to be fleshed out. More emphasis should be given to the way Jodi tried to destroy Travis on the stand. We should hear more of her tales of Travis being abusive to her, which would be in stark contrast to what we saw in the first part. We should hear her saying that Travis forced her to carry out sexual practises against her will. The trial phase in the film last 10 minutes, I think it could be done justice by expanding it to 20 minutes. It's not necessary to include the testimonies of Dr. Samuels and Alyce LaViolette, even though they would be amusing as comic relief.
For a true story to be made into a good film it doesn't have to include everything. It's okay to simplify matters that would take too long to explain and ruin the film's pacing. The closing scene of Jodi singing hymns in prison is poignant, I admit, but can anyone who doesn't already know about Jodi understand what it's about? I would omit it.
There are a few minor errors worth pointing out. When Jodi movies to Arizona she says that she is open to doing any job, even waitressing. She had worked for ten years as a waitress already, so she wouldn't have made a remark like that.
In the prison scene after sentencing her cell isn't portrayed accurately. She is kept in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day, so she isn't able to see or hear other prisoners.
The biggest mistake is that in her cell Jodi apologises to Travis. This is out of character. One thing that became apparent during the trial is that Jodi feels no remorse at all. She blames Travis for making her kill him.
Overall I can recommend the film, especially to those who have followed the trial. After all the months of courtroom lies it's refreshing to be reminded of what really happened. Maybe some of the details of the final day, prior to the killing, are still unknown, but the film supplies a reasonable estimation of the events. Only Jodi knows what really happened, but she will never tell the truth. The film will be aired on the Lifetime TV channel a few more times, so click here for the schedule. I'll definitely buy the DVD when it's released, and I hope that the Lifetime documentary will be included as a special feature.
Click here for my previous thoughts on Jodi Arias.