Director: Dan Reed
Cast: Michael Jackson, Jimmy Safechuck, Wade Robson
240 mins. Rated TV-MA.
Leaving Neverland is the type of documentary made for discussion, and it’s also going to spark some controversy. In fact, in the past few weeks, it has done exactly that. There are heated opinions on both sides of this issue, so I’m going to start by just reviewing the merits of the documentary. Let’s get started.
Leaving Neverland is the story of Jimmy Safechuck and Wade Robson, two men who, as boys, were huge fans of pop sensation Michael Jackson. From their perspective, they both recount separate accounts of their sexual abuse at the hands of the famed musician. It also examines some of the family of these men and how they were involved. It’s a strange and disturbing tale filled with testimony that is difficult but very important to hear.
It’s important to note that the testimonies given within the documentary have not been proven, and to do would be very difficult as Michael Jackson is no longer living. What is striking is how similar the two stories are to one another. How Jimmy and Wade first came into contact with Jackson is different, but the route that their tales take has some strange similarities.
Looking at the film’s structure, I don’t believe that the 4 hour runtime is necessary. I think a good hour could have been shaved from the film. I know the stories are important and many of the events described within them deserves to be said, the gargantuan runtime struggles.
I won’t be the first person to state in his review that I could not finish the film in one sitting. This is due to the graphic description in the film. Safechuck, Robson, and director Dan Reed (The Valley, Three Days of Terror: The Charlie Hebdo Attacks) do not restrain themselves in the telling of the story. Reed elects to tell the story as it spans over many years and spreads across families over the option to focus on the different viewpoints in the many lawsuits against Jackson. The story Reed wants to tell is one of victims and their experience as opposed to looking at the entirety of the many cases. The way Reed takes his focus to the families and the bonds that formed between Jackson and the parents as well as the kids over many years is shocking, disturbing, and deeply unsettling.
Leaving Neverland raises some interesting questions about the nature of the artist and their relationship with their work. The reaction to the film has been somewhat expected, but I was surprised by radio stations removing Jackson’s music in response. I get it, but I was still surprised. Are we able to separate the artist from the work? With the case of people like Kevin Spacey, I can watch his films knowing that there are more people contributing than just he, but Michael Jackson is more a brand than just a person, so it’s a tough thing. I get anyone choosing to boycott the musician or any talent who has been accused of horrible things, but it is an interesting question.
This is a documentary that is essential viewing, but be warned: this is not a pleasant experience. As far as a cinematic experience goes, this documentary is not one to go back to, but it is very important and raises both questions and conversation.
-Kyle A. Goethe