Curb Your Cynicism: Long Shot is the Rare Feel-Good True Crime Doc

Overview: A young man is charged with murder, while his attorney goes to unusual lengths to prove his innocence; Netflix; 2017; 40 minutes.

A Guy Goes to a Ballgame: The keystone around which the documentary Long Shot is built is a sad one: the 2003 murder of a 16-year old girl in Los Angeles. It wasn’t long before police zeroed in on the then 24-year old Juan Catalan, a father of two with no significant record (certainly none suggesting he was capable of murder). There was no physical evidence linking him to the crime, but plenty of the circumstantial kind; he was identified by an eyewitness (who flipped through mugshot books), and the victim had testified against Catalan’s brother in a murder trial, giving police a ready-made motive. It appeared the case (prosecuted by a D.A. who pushed for the death penalty) would simply go through the motions to reach its foregone conclusion. But that is where the case—and the film—diverge wildly from the standard true crime documentary. To tell you more would be to spoil the way the film unfurls its story.

Full Count: At a compact 40 minutes, Long Shot manages to effectively convey Catalan’s raw fear and confusion without sacrificing the narrative. It’s really a masterclass in succinct storytelling. Perhaps that’s why Long Shot is such a joy to watch; we’ve become so accustomed to stories taking 10 episodes to tell that we’ve forgotten how to understand someone’s humanity without the requisite lingering shots of them sipping coffee over the sink as the sun comes up. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with that kind of longform storytelling. Some stories absolutely require it. But this is not a whodunit. It’s made clear from the outset that Catalan’s innocence is not up for interpretation. Which leaves the filmmaker, Jacob LaMendola, one particularly powerful tool to keep a true crime documentary compelling: his skills as an editor. Much of Catalan’s fate is tied to proving his attendance at a Dodgers game the night of the murder, and perhaps the film’s best sequence is that way LaMendola splices police footage of the murder scene with broadcast footage of that very average ballgame. It’s a searing reminder the mundane exists alongside what we think of as the aberration of violence.

Larry David on Deck: In journalism, the phrase “burying the lede” refers to starting a story without revealing the most compelling or important detail until much later. A review is kind of a different beast, but I’d be misleading you to go this whole time without mentioning that Larry David is in this, and that Curb Your Enthusiasm plays a pivotal role, and that, yes, it is as charming as you expect it all to be. But the bigger takeaway for me in finishing Long Shot was the powerful role dumb luck plays in our lives. There are countless things that went wrong for Juan Catalan that night in 2003. But there were many more things worked in his favor; the kinds of everyday decisions that define the contours of our lives—even something as benign as when to hit the concession stand at a weeknight Dodgers game. It’s baffling really, but against the backdrop of so many stories that chronicle injustice, it’s nice to see fortune bend the right direction for a change. A small mercy, but Long Shot is one true crime documentary that will leave you feeling better afterward.

Overall: Long Shot tells the perfect story; tight, compelling, and with (no spoiler) a mercifully just ending.

Grade: A

Featured Image: Netflix