The inadequacies and oddities of the US justice system are pushed into the spotlight in Philly D.A. Although it sounds like a punchily-titled Law & Order spin-off, this eight-part documentary series follows the election and first term in office of Philadelphia’s current district attorney, Larry Krasner. Produced for the US Public Broadcasting Service, the first two episodes have been included in the Berlinale Series sidebar.
The paradox of the district attorney’s office is perhaps a bit bewildering for non-Americans. Surely the chief law enforcement officer in a jurisdiction should be appointed, rather than elected? After all, won’t the D.A.’s conduct then be dictated by the fact that they want to be re-elected? This contradiction is glaringly obvious when it’s pointed out that one of Krasner’s predecessors made a point of going for the throat in each and every case, leading to a city with prisons bursting at the seams.
Philly D.A. wouldn’t necessarily work with whoever the incumbent happened to be, and it’s Larry Krasner’s attempts to be a progressive reformer that makes the show worthwhile. A former civil rights attorney who was very much an outsider, Krasner cuts a dashing figure, all charisma while being politely personable. Although he never plays to the cameras, it’s evident that he’s extremely aware of them. Still, to be better than the D.A. elected before him, all Krasner has to do is not be jailed for accepting a bribe and nursing home fraud (seriously).
The show, rather precisely, exhibits the city of Philadelphia as a microcosm for the rest of the United States, none too subtly pointing out that progressive politics could be implemented on a much larger scale. While this is an interesting (and ideally achievable) theory, the themes at play are rather US-centric – and for non-Americans – the concepts remain abstract, instead of actionable. But, hopefully, there will be several more seasons of Law & Order: Philly D.A. to come.
Philly D.A. does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Berlin Film Festival 2021 coverage here.
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Watch the trailer for Philly D.A. here: