Elkhart 4 Documentary

1275 Days is an unscripted “reality” documentary about the Elkhart 4 from an inside perspective, a notorious criminal case that shook the sleepy town of Elkhart, Indiana a few years ago. A botched home invasion by teenage miscreants ends up with the four survivors facing felony murder charges and life behind bars before they graduate high school. 1275 Days takes an unscripted look at the youngest member serving time in prison and his family’s ordeal fighting the criminal justice system in hopes of an appeal.

The facts of the case are not in dispute; it’s the legal aftermath for the young men involved that raise issues about criminal justice and legal reform. Possibly looking for cash to meet their drug habit, teenager Blake Layman and friends broke into what they believed was an unoccupied home. What they got instead was a homeowner that soon opened fire, killing one of Blake’s friends.

1275 Days functions best as a cautionary tale for troubled teenagers

The four surviving friends were ultimately charged with felony murder as adults. One accepted a plea bargain for felony murder and the remaining three friends were convicted to 50-year sentences. An aggressive Indiana prosecutor went after the teenagers like they were hardened criminal thugs when that wasn’t the case.

The documentary mostly follows the plight of 16-year-old Blake dealing with prison and his single mother Angie keeping his slim hopes alive. Struggling to meet the crippling legal expenses for Blake’s defense and appeals, the family’s only chance at a normal life is the long-shot that his conviction gets overturned. Blake’s girlfriend Katherine sticks by his side during the entire process, working with the family on Blake’s appeal.

1275 Days takes a personal look at Blake’s case and the court struggles with candid footage of his friends and family. It’s not particularly objective, relying almost exclusively on his family’s emotional perspective. The documentary paints a sympathetic portrait of the teenager, delivering an unspoken message that the original conviction was a clear overreach by a zealous prosecutor looking to make a political name for himself.

Exploring issues like criminal justice reform and fair sentencing practices, it’s hard not empathizing with his mother Angie. She’s facing the prospect of losing her teenage son to a life in prison. A former teenage mother herself, the impoverished community around Angie does the best it can raising funds for Blake’s legal expenses.

Some viewers will never get over the fact that Blake and friends did something criminal which resulted in a person’s death, something 1275 Days mostly ignores in favor of heart-tugging scenes like Blake’s reunion with his mother and girlfriend. Objectivity and outside expertise is often missing for a more humane treatment of the subjects.

Filmed and cut in a style often seen on TLC’s reality shows, 1275 Days functions best as a cautionary tale for troubled teenagers. It’s not a perfect documentary if you are looking for a deconstruction of the felony murder rule that got Blake and his friends convicted for nearly life sentences.

Video

Cut and filmed like many reality shows on TLC, the 1.78:1 presentation for 1275 Days offers up reasonable Hi-Def picture quality. The candid family footage holds up with sharp clarity. Prison interviews are a little softer but nevertheless fine. Some archival and establishing footage has lesser definition.

The AVC encode easily handles the 1080P video. 1275 Days runs nearly 81 minutes on a BD-25. FilmRise does an excellent job with the technical demands of the transfer. The documentary likely can’t look any better than this BD, limited by the personal reality footage.

Audio

FilmRise includes a probably unnecessary surround mix in 5.1 DTS-HD MA quality. The lossless audio has clean, crisp dialogue and little else. This is a documentary consisting of reality footage and prison interviews. There’s an adequate stereo soundstage across the front with no obvious recording issues.

Optional English SDH subtitles play in a white font. A secondary 2.0 DTS-HD MA soundtrack matches the surround effort in both fidelity and soundstage.

Extras

FilmRise includes a few extras for this special edition of the documentary. This edition is pressed unlike the earlier release.

Deleted Scenes (05:42 in HD) – No explanation is given why these scenes were cut, though they often fill in redundant glimpses at Blake’s family.

Experts On Retroactivity (02:45 in HD) – As the laws change in various states, legal experts discuss the different approaches to the felony murder rule as it applies to already convicted criminals.

Photo Gallery (20 Images in HD)

1275 Days Trailer (01:59 in HD)

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

1275 Days
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A one-sided but often moving reality documentary about a teenage boy facing life in prison.

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