Last Meal | Review | Tribeca Film Festival 2021

 


"Serial killers are the fast food of true crime," directors Marcus McKenzie and Daniel Principe hit the nail on the head in their short interview about their latest film: Last Meal. The short doc explores facts on capital punishment to the backdrop of people's last meals before execution. The sleek commercial aesthetic becomes somewhat dystopian as the film progresses. The gluttonous imagery of elaborate meals grows sickening, subverting expectation and requiring an audience to tune in to the hard truths of this often overlooked practice. 

At a slim 17-minutes, this film flies by, which is no small feat. It neatly and concisely disputes common prejudice and challenges its viewers while remaining respectful to their intelligence. Attempting to be neutral while maintaining a polemic, it panders slightly to the intrigue and fascination media clouds true-crime narratives in and ultimately goes beyond that by challenging that curiosity. 

"What's your death row meal?" is often a conversation starter at a dinner party or wedged into an influencer's YouTube Q&A, but what's great about Last Meal is that it condemns the nonchalance we attach to it. It discusses the hidden deception of these reports, showing how the public receives one truth where the reality is a lot bleaker, meal requests limited by budget or even by quality to whatever the prison kitchen can whip up. Texas no longer allows this "luxury" despite being the state that executes the most people per year in the country. This perception that people are gorging on lobster and caviar before death is a false fantasy that excuses the public from caring. 

The image in this article is one of the most profound of the film. Ricky Ray Rector was executed in Arkansas after staff spent over fifty minutes to find a suitable vein to pump the lethal injection through. His last meal request was steak, fried chicken, cherry Kool-Aid and pecan pie, leaving the pie "for later". 

Last Meal isn't afraid to display empathy for the seemingly unempathetic. There are multiple perceptions from all corners of the world on who should be forgiven or given a second chance, but there is a kindness in McKenzie and Principe's filmmaking that is welcome as a change of narrative on the conversation of capital punishment. There is dangerousness in the lack of transparency with capital punishment, and any attempt to gloss over or commercialise the truth feeds into that, and Last Meal dispels that by getting right into the thick of it in a way that is accessible and inviting. 

It is bold, empathetic and neatly made and should be on the watch list of all those at Tribeca. A spare 17-minutes and then hopefully a lifelong commitment to being against the eye-for-an-eye belief the USA upholds.

Last Meal is screening as part of the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival. 

Ticket information can be found here: https://tribecafilm.com/films/last-meal-2021


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