Netflix Documentary ‘Boston Marathon Bombing’ Is A Comprehensive But Difficult Watch


Viewers unfamiliar with the Boston Marathon bombings will get a lot out of Netflix’s three-part documentary. Those who lived through it may want to avoid it altogether.

A scene from the Netflix documentary “American Manhunt: The Boston Marathon Bombing.” Netflix

This Saturday marks the tenth anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings, one of the most shocking and unforgettable tragedies in the city’s history. In the lead up to the anniversary, Netflix has launched “American Manhunt: The Boston Marathon Bombing”, a three-part documentary chronicling the approximately 101 hours from the time the first bomb exploded to the capture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in a Watertown backyard.

Directed by Floyd Russ (“Malice at the Palace”), “American Manhunt” is thorough and relentless. For those less familiar with what happened during those five days of fear and uncertainty, the documentary represents a comprehensive look at a very complex situation. However, for those who lived through it, seeing the eerie images of the finish line and, in some cases, dramatic re-enactments of moments from the search for the Tsarnaev brothers across the region, can be too much.

“American Manhunt” opens on April 15, 2013, with footage shot by producer Steve Silva of bombs exploding on Boylston Street. From there, he traces the chaos of those first 24 hours, speaking with victims, journalists, and key decision-makers like former Boston Police Commissioners Ed Davis and William Evans, as well as FBI investigators Rick DesLauriers and John Foley.

Even those intimately familiar with the bombings will likely hear a fresh take on the documentary, with more than a dozen subjects sitting for the film crews. We hear from the likes of Karen McWatters, who lost her leg while she was standing with victim Krystle Campbell near the finish line; Youssef Eddafali, a close friend of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s in high school who was questioned for hours after the incident; and David Filipov, former boston globe journalist who traveled to Dagestan and the surrounding region for two months to explore the alleged radicalization of Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

The series examines everything from the city’s drive after Dzhokhar’s capture, the detailed account of the Watertown shooting, and the wild online detective speculation and Islamophobia that flourished in the immediate aftermath of the attacks.

Karen McWatters in “American Manhunt: The Boston Marathon Bombing.” (Netflix)

Russ doesn’t shy away from asking his interview subjects tough questions, exposing differences of opinion that arose in the week following the bombings and persist to this day. Commissioner Davis speaks about his desire at the time to immediately release photos of the Tsarnaev brothers, saying he believed that would quickly bring them to justice. DesLauriers and then-Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz, on the other hand, expressed concern at the time that the brothers would freak out and disappear or do something rash, which is exactly what happened when tried to steal the gun of MIT campus police officer Sean Collier, who was killed while sitting in his patrol car.

In another example, Russ and company look at pressure cooker pumps being used on Boylston Street, with Ortiz stating that the pumps were likely made in Tsarnaev’s Norfolk Street apartment, while Davis suggests that they had the help of an unknown person. identified to make the bomb. Russ bombs then cuts to a split screen of Davis and Foley, who dismisses the talk of a “grand conspiracy theory”.

The documentary also takes the time to examine parts of the case that remain unresolved, such as Tsarnaev’s alleged involvement in the 2011 Waltham triple homicide of his close friend, Brendan Mess, and two other men, Erik Weissman and Rafi Teken. (For a deeper dive into that part of the story, check out Hulu’s “The crimes before the marathon”.)

A dramatic reenactment of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev shopping for milk at Whole Foods in “American Manhunt: The Boston Marathon Bombing.” (Netflix)

All of this makes “American Manhunt: The Boston Marathon Bombing” worth watching, but it’s a recommendation that comes with reservations for Boston viewers. Seeing images of the bombings is difficult, but expected. Seeing footage of a plane crashing into the World Trade Center on September 11 to help illustrate Islamophobia is unexpected and unnecessary.

Also unnecessary are the scenes in which the actors playing the Tsarnaev brothers dramatize moments from that week, with the faces of the performers scrambled like a static television signal. These scenes feel like a slick attempt to add to the excitement of an already dramatic documentary.

Given the glut of documentaries, podcasts, and true crime specials populating streaming services today, it was probably inevitable that a documentary would be made about the Boston Marathon bombings, and “American Manhunt: The Boston Marathon Bombing.” “It’s a reasonably strong effort. But if you have no interest in revisiting that painful period in our city’s history, there’s nothing wrong with skipping it.

“American Manhunt: The Boston Marathon Bombing” is now streaming on Netflix.

Add Comment