Hot Docs 2022: ‘The Killing of a Journalist’ Is an Engrossing Dive Into a Tragic Scandal

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The Killing of a Journalist Review - But Why Tho

In his captivating documentary The Killing of a Journalist, director Matt Sarnecki manages to provide and take away hope at the same time. This story about the murder of journalist Ján Kuciak and fiancée Martina Kušnírová in Slovakia highlights how easy corruption can take over an entire country, but also recognizes the power of journalism to fight against injustice.

Ján Kuciak was a remarkable journalist who investigated and reported on the many frauds and tax scams of high-level Slovakian politicians; such crimes were the reflection of a disease hidden in the entrails of a country controlled by powerful oligarchs who systematically and somewhat secretly took over the government through their own political parties. As Kuciak’s work focused on nasty business tycoon Marián Kocner, he became a target. In February of 2018, a hitman entered Kuciak’s apartment and murdered him along with his fiancée Kušnírová. It was the first targeted murder of a journalist in Slovakia’s history and, despite the police forced attempts to deny it, Kocner was the prime suspect.

After the incident, journalists immediately started demanding answers and people took to the streets to protest this major threat to their nation: “An attack of a journalist is an attack on all of us,” spelled a banner during a public demonstration. These joint efforts had strong repercussions, and while showing us how key political figures started resigning due to public pressure, Sarnecki subtly points at the putrid smell hiding beneath the government’s surface.

The origin of this rot is explored in the second half of The Killing of a Journalist when Sarnecki shifts his focus to the technicalities of the murder, as well as the trial case involving Kocner and all the other suspects. This whole section is gripping due to smart editing by Janus Billeskov Jansen and the impressive array of footage that Sarnecki uses to support the film: from disturbing videos recorded to survey Kuciak before the assassination to a jaw-dropping recreation of the murder by the hitman himself in the actual crime scene, the director makes sure to use every key piece of video, photo, or leaked conversation to not only maintain your eyeballs glued to the screen, but also build up interest toward the eventual reveal of the depths of corruption in Slovakia’s police, government, and judicial systems. 

Despite how fascinating the true crime aspect of The Killing of a Journalist is, at some point, Sarnecki struggles to keep in sight the humanity of his film and the tragedy at its center. We hear from the family of Kušnírová and Kuciak yet the pain of loss tends to get lost in the spectacle of the trial which also undermines the journalistic core of the story. However, the director finishes strong with a reflection on the tragic irony of the whole situation: Kuciak’s murder was the breaking point that forced the system to finally take action against its own revolting drain of corruption. The dirty man that Kuciak worked so hard to take down, was finally behind bars. But was the cost worth it? Not in the slightest. 

With elegant cinematography, engrossing pace, strong support material, and interviews with key figures, Sarnecki presents a tragic story of murder, crime, and investigative prowess that celebrates journalism as a crucial tool to seek justice. 

In my country, México, the assassination of journalists has sadly become a common occurrence; and most of the time, the crimes go unpunished. So I found myself having complex feelings while watching The Killing of a Journalist. It was kind of surreal, but also inspiring to see how the swift response of people and journalists managed to create a change of sorts in the country. And although things are vastly different in México and it seems like no matter how much we protest, things only get worse, this film was a reminder of the importance of honest journalism to inspire and fight for a structural transformation of our societies.

The Killing of a Journalist had its World Premiere at Hot Docs 2022.


The Killing of a Journalist
  • 8/10
    Rating - 8/10
8/10

TL;DR

With elegant cinematography, engrossing pace, strong support material, and interviews with key figures, Sarnecki presents a tragic story of murder, crime, and investigative prowess that celebrates journalism as a crucial tool to seek justice.