The Hunt for the Boston Bombers, Channel 4, TV review

A glossy re-creation of the Boston bombers  manhunt doesn't capture the imagination
  • @willydean

If one was to make a checklist of all the vital ingredients needed to create the subject of a dramatic documentary, one could do worse than a global news event; an act of terrorism; a frenetic manhunt; a suburban gunfight and a final stand-off. There's enough drama in each to make a compelling film. Give the material to an Errol Morris or a Kevin Macdonald and you'll have something stunning on your hands.

Alas, alas. The Hunt for the Boston Bombers was no One Day in September. (And one should perhaps point out here that the surviving suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev hasn't actually been found guilty as yet, but "The Hunt for the Alleged Boston Bombers" does lack a bit of EPG pizzazz.)

This film, marking a year since the Boston Marathon bombings, was shown here by Channel 4 but made, rather obviously, over there for National Geographic. Its access was incredible. From the Boston policeman William B Evans, who both ran the marathon (in a splendid 3'35") and was on the scene when David Henneberry rang the police to inform him that there was a bloodied Tsarnaev hiding away in his beloved boat. To Henneberry himself, as well as senior members of the FBI, Boston Police and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick. The only person who didn't make an appearance was Barack Obama, who nevertheless turned in archive footage.

So that was great. Thanks to having access to pretty much everyone who mattered in the investigation meant that for even those who watched that crazy week unfold live on TV (the news media came out badly, it ought to be noted) learned a lot about the manhunt. For instance, I'd forgotten that Tamerlan Tsarnaev died because his younger brother hit him with a car.

But this being a documentary created for the US channel behind Rocket City Rednecks and Ultimate Factories rather than HBO or, heck, BBC2, the quality of interviewees wasn't enough.

We also got an incessant drums throughout many of the interviews which, rather than lend an intended air of suspense, made it sound like Dame Evelyn Glennie was in a nearby room angling for a gig at the opening of the Commonwealth Games.

A series of reconstructions was weird too. One of the investigators explained to the camera that, by its very nature, the marathon bombing was one of the most recorded acts of terrorism ever committed, but viewers were given a glossy dramatisation of the event that looked like a cheap made-for-TV movie. The actual footage of the bomb going off was infinitely more captivating. Obviously.

The reconstructions got better as the chase for the Tsarnaevs went on. You almost forgot they weren't real footage at points. But then they found Dzhokar in the boat and re-created the whole event except the bit where they actually captured their suspect. Well done everyone.