In the Watch This Next column, Man of Many takes a look back at a great TV show or film that may have slipped under your radar. Given the near-limitless entertainment options in the Netflix era, it’s easy to overlook amazing content in favour of the latest hit. For every Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad or Stranger Things, there’s another thing equally worthy of attention and we make the case for why you should watch it and where you can find it.
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‘My kids wanted to know when I was coming home… and I didn’t have an answer.’ – Juan Catalan, ‘Long Shot’
For a majority of the population, the criminal justice system is a nebulous entity that exists outside the purview of everyday life. It is perhaps this unfamiliarity – and the inherent sense of drama and danger that crime elicits – that has propelled true-crime as the eminent form of modern documentary.
With the runaway successes of ‘Serial’ and ‘Making a Murderer’, true-crime storytelling has found a natural habitat in the era of on-demand, binge-watching content and now dominates the podcast and SVOD landscapes. As a vicarious viewing experience, true-crime puts you firmly in the shoes of those accused of society’s most transgressive acts, allowing you to experience their situation without the risk of consequence.
Commissioned by Netflix and directed by the little-known Jacob LaMendola, ‘Long Shot’ is true-crime documentary at its credulity-stretching best. It tells the story of Juan Catalan, a Hispanic LA native and passionate Dodgers fan whose life is upended in 2003 when he’s charged with the murder of 16-year-old Martha Puebla.
Having served as a witness in a recent gang murder case, Puebla was assassinated outside her family home and the composite picture produced by the sole eyewitness bore enough of a resemblance to Catalan for the police to arrest him.
Despite insisting he was at a Dodgers game at the time of the murder, he has no way to validate his alibi. Up against a prosecutor who had never lost a murder case and chasing the death sentence, Catalan’s fate seems sealed, before an unbelievable coincidence offers him a way to prove his innocence.
To say any more would be to ruin the film’s genuinely unexpected twist, but it’s far to say ‘Long Shot’ boasts a reveal to rival those of celebrated true-crime documentaries like ‘The Jinx’ and ‘Dear Zachary’.
Built around symmetrical piece-to-camera interviews with the story’s key protagonists, the film is a humanising portrayal of one man’s struggle with a justice system that seems designed to suppress and alienate him. It offers a glimpse into the American justice system, with all its endemic issues, and examines the undeniable role that luck and coincidence play in the story of our life.
At 40 minutes, it’s also a relatively breezy, bite-sized piece of absorbing true-crime, doing away with ‘Making a Murderer’s’ immersive complexity or ‘The Jinx’s’ protracted reveal.
As with most stranger-than-fiction true crime documentary, the less you know before the watching, the more you’re likely to enjoy the experience. This extends even to the film’s official trailer and synopsis, both of which spoil the key development that turns Juan’s case on its head.
Ultimately, ‘Long Shot’ is significant for the truly remarkable chain of events it retells. For those both lucky and unlucky enough to have shared Juan’s experience of the criminal justice system, and his quest for innocence, it’s a reminder as to how much of our lives are shaped by quirks of fate outside our control – the human element of uncertainty that makes true-crime such an alluring subject.
‘Long Shot’ is available on Netflix.