Just when you thought you can’t handle any more police-related killings in America, here comes a heart-wrenching documentary about a recent case that wasn’t so huge on the national news scene. While names like Michael Brown and Eric Garner have become well-known due to the massive media attention given to their deaths, it feels almost criminal to not know the story of Dontre Hamilton. A troubled young man suffering from schizophrenia, he was shot 14 times by a police officer hassling him for sleeping in a public space. This is where the story begins.
What the film chronicles is the massive heartache of a family seeking justice for their dead boy. Director Erik Ljung takes an approach so professional, with such high production value, the audience could almost not be blamed for looking twice to see if the film is documentary or a lightly concealed work of fiction. Capturing the raw emotions of a grieving family, a frustrating effort to draw attention to the tragedy, and even how the police react to the whole situation, it has an effectively edited flow to it, even when it slows down a lot (mostly to capture extended moments capturing facial expressions charged with emotion). Dontre’s surviving family are unrestrained and sincere, and a smartly-used camera records every excruciating drop of the drama.
As is too often the case with many movies traversing these waters, viewers will walk away from The Blood Is at the Doorstep with a deep sense of justice unrequited. This isn’t a tough journey with a triumphant resolution. This is more likely an inside look at a more common occurrence: the draining frustration of trying, fighting and not really winning. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more professionally-captured history of the things which Dontre’s family goes through. Hard to watch stuff, but impactful and important.