An agile, dizzyingly thorough tear-wringer that’s equal parts memorial, crime drama and legal-reform tract, Dear Zachary handily trumps Capturing the Friedmans as the most searingly personal doc of the past half decade. In it, one-man film crew Kurt Kuenne chronicles his cross-country (and eventually transnational) trek to visit the eponymous Zachary, infant son of murdered lifelong pal Dr. Andrew Bagby and the unstable ex-girlfriend who likely killed him.
In addition to this material, Kuenne has a bonanza of footage from Bagby’s early life to work with (much of which the filmmaker shot himself throughout the friends’ shared childhood), and he edits it with an impressive surgical precision. His skill and devotion, complemented by emotionally frank interviews with the young physician’s loved ones (heartbroken, quietly heroic parents Kate and David in particular), help Dear Zachary overcome a general lack of cinematic sophistication and overreliance on stylistic turf already claimed by Errol Morris. But slickness isn’t the point anyway, and Kuenne’s final document—suffused with longing and loss and bureaucratic idiocy, and featuring a knee-buckling late-film twist—interrogates the tenderness and haphazard brutality that make up average lives with an immediacy few other movies attempt.