'My Perfect World: The Aaron Hernandez Story': Film Review | DOC NYC 2018

Courtesy of Blackfin
A compelling true crime story.

Geno McDermott's documentary chronicles the story of the star football player who committed suicide while serving a prison sentence for first-degree murder.

True crime stories have provided plenty of fodder for non-fiction films on both the big and small screen in recent years. But few are as riveting as the one chronicled in Geno McDermott's documentary concerning, as the film's publicity materials would have it, "the most infamous athlete since O.J. Simpson." Based on investigative reporting by journalists Kevin Armstrong and Dan Wetzel, My Perfect World: The Aaron Hernandez Story recounts the fascinating tale of the star football player who could have had it all but instead wound up committing suicide while serving a prison sentence for first-degree murder. The pic recently received its world premiere at DOC NYC.

"The day he came in, he was acting like a convict right away," notes a guard at the prison where Hernandez was confined. The statement feels telling, since Hernandez seemed destined for his fate from early on. His father died unexpectedly from complications of minor hernia surgery when Hernandez was only 16, an event which traumatized him. He turned to drugs and petty crime but nonetheless set multiple records while playing football at a Connecticut high school.

Hernandez was All-American at the University of Florida but got into trouble numerous times, including being the suspect in a 2007 shooting. He was drafted by the New England Patriots, for whom he was a star player for three seasons. During his time playing for the team, Hernandez was involved in a series of violent incidents and was the chief suspect in a 2012 drive-by double killing. The next year, he was charged with the murder of Odin Lloyd, a semi-professional football player who was dating the sister of Hernandez's fiancée.

Released by the Patriots immediately after his arrest, Hernandez was tried and convicted of first-degree murder. While serving a life sentence for that crime, he was also indicted for the unsolved 2012 killings but was acquitted at trial. A few days later he committed suicide in his prison cell, with the words "John 3:16," referring to the biblical verse, written on his forehead. Researchers later studying his brain discovered that Hernandez was suffering from a severe case of the progressive degenerative disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.

The documentary benefits greatly from revealing interviews with many people who were close to Hernandez, including friends, family members and such associates as Alexander Bradley, a drug dealer who was the key witness at his murder trial. It also features generous amounts of fascinating archival footage of Hernandez's playing career and trials as well as video recordings taken from his own security tapes, shot shortly after the murder, in which he's seen walking around his home with a gun in his hand. It was one of the key pieces of incriminating evidence.

The complex aspects of Hernandez's troubled psyche are explored at length. Despite his violent tendencies, he was known for his good heart and generosity. A fellow inmate who became a friend says of Hernandez, "I never heard a bad thing about him ever." He pauses and then adds, laughing, "Except all the murders."

Production company: Blackfin
Director-screenwriter: Geno McDermott
Producers: Geno McDermott, Shawn DeClair, Adam Talaid
Executive producers: Christina Douglas, Dan Wetzel, Kevin Armstrong, Shawn DeClair
Directors of photography: Geno McDermott, Seth Applebaum
Editor: Adam Talaid
Composers: Soular Moon, Zane Durham
Venue: DOC NYC

87 minutes