Perfect Murder, Perfect Town: JonBenét and the City of Boulder

This is the most deserving piece of satire that could be imagined, a truly great film, a work in the tradition of such CBS telefilms as Ruby and Oswald, and part of the CBS film unit’s intermittent renascence, which puts the rest of CBS (and everything else on television here and abroad) in the shade.

Satire implies perspective, and as that commodity is in precious short supply, this film eschews the generous framing of its tale in any sort of independent view. The murder has not been solved, anyone in Boulder might have done it, who knows? Schiller draws out of the city what we have all sensed pretty clearly: something colossally stupid has been going on.

You might have sensed there was something odd about the parents, about the police not finding conclusive evidence, about the D.A. not formulating a viable case, about the grotesque tabloid features of the case, and Schiller just takes you there as best he can, leaving no distance for irony between the camera and his actors, no interludes of respite from the rather terrible news about the case. It’s the lack of distance that makes it all possible, I suppose. One step back and you would have the drama we all see every day on television.

The casting is an exquisite calculation, which produces daring results that, again, Schiller doesn’t allow to get away from the camera. The Globe reporter traipses around Boulder like Murray Melvin in A Taste Of Honey, with the most interesting psychological workup any caseworker could wish. The D.A. (Ken Howard) is a marvelous Coloradan going slowly mad, as you might say, behind the wall of police incompetence and suspicion, but can you say that? There’s something beyond ambiguity in these performances (Ronny Cox as John Ramsey, Kris Kristofferson as Lou Smit the D.A.’s private investigator, etc.), even beyond subtlety.

This is the satire of the loony bin run by the patients, where there is no room for explanations. It seems to owe a great deal to Fred Schepisi’s A Cry in the Dark, but repays its debt with an even greater sense of relentless detachment, no that’s not it, it’s like roping a dangerous animal you can’t hold on to and don’t dare let go.