Arts & Entertainment, Reviews

‘I Just Killed My Dad’ probes domestic violence question without giving answers

Anthony Tremplet speaks in an interview included in I Just Killed My Dad. (Netflix / Courtesy Image)

Director Skye Borgman’s three-episode documentary places Anthony Tremplet’s real life killing of his father not under a microscope, but in a landscape of context painted with a rich narrative brush.

Despite eventually soaking viewers in the Tremplet’s defense team’s struggle to make his version of events heard, and holding the #10 rank in documentaries on Netflix more than a week after its initial online release last month, I Just Killed My Dad gets off to a slow start, placing heavy emphasis on fairly predictable content.

The series establishes what it asserts to be the facts of the situation quickly: Anthony Tremplet called 911 on June 6, 2019 and told the dispatcher “I just killed my dad,” then confessed in his statement to shooting three rounds at his father.

It’s when the opening episode moves beyond the initial police report level of the story that it falters.

Investigators are quoted as saying they’re not sure if he is even capable of feeling empathy—citing the arguably extremely weak evidence that he didn’t seem to show much emotion on his face when he confessed in his statement to shooting at his father three times.

Stop watching too soon and it’s easy to believe the series is simply another rehashing of police reports, B-roll footage of sirens and lights, and hyperbolic speculation.

The series takes a sharp turn toward something more meaningful when it introduces the other half of Tremplet’s family—a half he didn’t even really know existed (according to the series) until during the investigation of the shooting.

It’s here that the documentary’s narrative switches from one of “shocking crime” to “this is how abuse remains undetected by public authorities.”

The filmmakers reveal alleged cycles of domestic violence, including a protective order filed against Tremplet’s father by his mother, that go back three generations, to Tremplet’s great-grandparents’ relationship.

“I don’t know how to break the cycle of violence. I don’t know, how do you break the it,” his grandmother Patricia Jenkins says in an interview clip with the documentary crew.

True to its genre’s documentary nature, the filmmakers don’t posture cheap solutions to Jenkins’ question, instead arranging their documentation toward the singular goal of forcing viewers to grapple with Jenkins’ question themselves: “How do you break the cycles of violence?”

And it’s a question that is well worth asking.

“On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States,” according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Those kinds of numbers don’t just go away if we ignore them or sweep them under the rug.

Whether this particular story of Burt Tremplet’s abuse of his son, wife, and former wife is as accurate as the filmmakers seem to want viewers to believe, or not, the kinds of situations described in the documentary do occur far, far too often.

Twenty per minute means an average of nearly 1 every three seconds.

Three seconds.

And another person is physically abused.

It is very possible for fear, and a broken criminal justice and family court system to fail the numerous victims of such abuse, in much the way the documentary alleges.

I Just Killed My Dad doesn’t provide answers to the problem of domestic violence, but it does take the first step toward a solution: it starts a conversation.