Philly D.A.

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Philly D.A.
"Although the directors are obviously rooting for Krasner to succeed, they try to present the situation 'in the round', giving plenty of room for those who worked under the previous administration to air their views as well." | Photo: Yoni Brook

Philly DA, which premiered at Sundance and is also screening in Berlin, is the first two hours of what will ultimately run on television as an eight episode series about Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner - who many see as the very definition of poacher turned gamekeeper, although he is most certainly not in the business of maintaining the status quo.

A civil rights lawyer for decades, he had sued the Philadelphia Police Department more than 70 times before deciding to run for office. Yoni Brook, Ted Passon and Nicole Salazar's series - which, going on the first two episodes upon which this review is based, runs wide and deep - begins with his first policy meeting after gaining the position before rewinding to give a flavour of his run for power, filling in archive footage about his activism and career as they go.

Krasner made no secret of his progressive attitude on the election stump, seeking, in particular, an end to cash bail, which inevitably penalises the poorest, while also taking a much lighter touch approach to things like SAM (small amounts of marijuana), prostitution and juvenile detention. He didn't just get elected but elected by "a landslide" by a community ready for change.

But if the electorate are ready for a new broom, his department seems considerably more cautious, especially after a round of sackings - dubbed the Snow Day Massacre, because staff were called in during bad weather to be given the news. Krasner is under no illusions about how mixed his welcome is, smartly deciding to spread the more 'progressives' in his team throughout the building, "I don't want a floor to secede," he jokes. He's perhaps closer to the truth than even he realises as tensions in the teams begin to mount, particularly in the area of juvenile justice.

Although the directors are obviously rooting for Krasner to succeed, they try to present the situation 'in the round', giving plenty of room for those who worked under the previous administration to air their views as well. You can almost feel the whiplash being experienced by some who find themselves left spinning by the speed of change, as Krasner's refuses to take a softly, softly approach. Lisa Harvey, an old hand in the juvenile department, is a case in point, someone who previously might have been viewed as progressive but who now finds herself on the other side of the argument as Krasner's people plough ahead with change. Those who love the ins and outs of political drama will find plenty to get stuck into here, and as the police department set up roadblocks to the information Krasner's team wants, the stage is set for a battle of wills that could easily run the length of the series, which has yet to be completed.

The filmmakers capture the intensity of this sort of environment, while also weaving in the personal - an interlude in which his wife, a judge, turns into her husband's interviewer, is just one of the series surprises - and personal is, surely, what this is above all else to Krasner, as his drive and that of many on his team goes beyond mere lip service to a more deeply rooted credo. To put a star rating on just two episodes of this series is a little presumptuous but there is something to be said for the fact that I happily watched two hours of this on the bounce and would have more than willingly hoovered up more, if it had been available.

Reviewed on: 02 Mar 2021
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A groundbreaking inside look at the long shot election and tumultuous first term of Larry Krasner, Philadelphia's unapologetic District Attorney, and his experiment to upend the criminal justice system from the inside out.

Director: Yoni Brook, Ted Passon

Writer: Yoni Brook, Ted Passon, Nicole Salazar

Year: 2021

Country: US


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