Sheriff

The shadow of veteran documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman looms over Daniel Kraus' cinema verité look at Sheriff Ronald E. Hewett of rural Brunswick County, N.C. Kraus was working as a local TV-news photographer when he conceived this project, and knew firsthand that while Hewett's beat looks like a quiet backwater, it's actually seething with crime....read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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The shadow of veteran documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman looms over Daniel Kraus' cinema verité look at Sheriff Ronald E. Hewett of rural Brunswick County, N.C. Kraus was working as a local TV-news photographer when he conceived this project, and knew firsthand that while Hewett's beat looks like a quiet backwater, it's actually seething with crime. Kraus opens the film with a sequence in which Hewett addresses local news crews that have converged on the scene of a multiple homicide. At first glance, Hewett embodies every stereotype of Southern lawmen: He puts his faith in the law, the Bible and firepower, dotes on his wife and children, hunts (waiting in a blind is just like working a stakeout, he says) and attends church regularly. Hewett knows with absolute certainty that in spiritual matters there's a clear bright line between good and evil. But he also knows that in the earthly realm, there's a whole lot of gray. To be sure, he's not happy about the strip joint that just opened on the fringes of his jurisdiction — places like that bring drugs and organized crime. But he makes it very clear that he'll give everyone connected with the business the full protection the law affords. And as to the nudist camp he keeps hearing about from other members of his church, he can't for the life of him imagine why people would want to walk around buck naked, but if they obey the law — which they do — they're OK in his book. Brunswick County is crawling with too many wife-beaters, bank robbers, carjackers and murderers for him to waste time worrying about some naked folks. None of this should be a revelation: Most people and situations are more complicated than they appear. But there's no downside to a reminder that not every beefy, God-talking sheriff is a bigoted cracker, and Kraus' short, no-frills documentary is a model of fly-on-the-wall filmmaking. It's just Hewett going about his business, busting illegal video-gambling parlors, investigating murders, giving pep talks to students, lobbying for a new bomb-sniffing dog (the old one has seizures) and more money, keeping the faith in the face of tedium punctuated with glimpses of human nature at its most unlovely and unlovable.

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  • Released: 2005
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: The shadow of veteran documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman looms over Daniel Kraus' cinema verité look at Sheriff Ronald E. Hewett of rural Brunswick County, N.C. Kraus was working as a local TV-news photographer when he conceived this project, and knew… (more)

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