Review – Alien Boy: The Life And Death Of James Chasse

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Told through an extensive collection of interviews, courtroom footage and newspaper clippings, Alien Boy maps the tragic story of James Chasse. A schizophrenic struggling with the norms of life, Chasse was violently tackled and brutally beaten by police officers in Portland Oregon. Six years in the making, this reverent film takes us from Chasse’s bright punk rock youth through his ever increasing mental struggle to his brutal death and the contemptuous court proceedings that followed.

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The cynics amongst us could argue that this film, largely told from the point of view of those that knew James Chasse and those who witnessed his death, is like many other documentaries of this kind, one sided and entirely focused on the viewer’s emotions. Yet in the case of Alien Boy this couldn’t be further from the truth. It is a reaction to the state led portrayal of Chasse as a dangerous and mentally ill vagrant immediately following his harrowing death. It is one of the most moving documentaries I’ve seen in years, but is remarkably fair and to the point. The culmination of Lindstrom’s talent and a community in shock, Alien Boy demonstrates the outrage felt by the people of Portland and displays the contempt of the court system when it is the system itself under question. It tastefully outlines the failings of the police and though it heavily criticises their actions it is sure to present that this is endemic of greater failings and thankfully falls just short of demonising the officers involved. As far detached from the sermons of Michael Moore as a documentary can be; Alien Boy does not preach to its viewers. It lets them determine for themselves whether to believe the evidence put in front of them and lets the people who experienced this tragedy, as well as those who committed it, tell their own story.

Alien Boy is gripping from the start and unlike many feature documentaries which can feel stretched and overplayed; Lindstrom delivers pace, suspense, gratifying content and boundless human emotion. It has a real impact to it and there will be few who aren’t affected by watching this film.

An absolute must see!

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