“Do you know who killed JonBenet Ramsey?”
Kitty Green’s most recent Sundance-nominated documentary greets the viewer with this haunting question, posed by a young girl in red, white and blue pageant garb, before its opening credits.
In “Casting JonBenet,” Green sets a deeply human look at American culture against the backdrop of one of Colorado’s most publicized murder cases.
Through mock audition tapes with Colorado actors hoping to portray those involved, she tells the story of the Ramseys during the aftermath of their daughter’s murder. These tapes, bouncing between personal testimony and monologue readings, make up the entire documentary.
Little Miss Colorado 1995, JonBenet Ramsey, was found murdered the morning after Christmas 1996 at her family’s home in Boulder. On Oct. 13, 1999, District Attorney Alex Hunter announced his office had not found “sufficient evidence to warrant filing of charges.” While the police did not ever name a guilty suspect, the national community and media freely, and repeatedly, lobbed their own theories.
Green takes a fresh approach to an otherwise over-trod subject. In fact, the film’s potency comes from its acceptance of how dramatically Americans exploited the murder for entertainment and gossip fodder. “Casting JonBenet” exposes its subjects’ personal convictions and opinions of humanity through their perception of the muddled case.
The documentary’s participants give life to the heavily stereotyped family members and suspects involved in JonBenet’s murder. The participants’ personalities and faults affect their telling of the story, something it’s clear Green counted on. By using a parade of different storytellers, Green shows that biased perception often clouds reality and has certainly clouded the investigation of this case.
Women dressed in matching red turtlenecks and strings of white pearls address the camera, attempting to get into the head of JonBenet’s mother, Patsy Ramsey. These actresses show a gap in the way humans think about one another and how they think about themselves. The many actors auditioning for the role of JonBenet’s father reveal even further public miscalculation about the lives of this American family.
Dixon White’s portrayal of John Mark Karr paints a disturbing picture of the convicted pedophile, who falsely confessed to JonBenet’s murder in 2006. White captures the undeniably creepy, but not guilty, persona of Karr. In the film, White explains that in order to embody the role, he had to think through and truly believe the outlandish claims Karr made in the years following the murder.
Uncomfortable at times and poignant throughout, “Casting JonBenet” asks the viewers to take a look at themselves while watching. The film uncovers the deep and divisive stereotypes that came from media coverage of the trial and explores how people begin to understand a crime like this.