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Friday, Sep 20, 2019

Leaving Neverland movie review: HBO destroys Michael Jackson’s legacy with unforgettable bravery

Leaving Neverland movie review: HBO crucifies Michael Jackson’s legacy with brave first-person account of two men, who allege that the King of Pop abused them when they were children. Rating: 4/5.

hollywood Updated: May 14, 2019 14:19 IST
Rohan Naahar
Rohan Naahar
Hindustan Times
Leaving Neverland, which has thrown the late Jackson's legacy into question nearly a decade after his death.
Leaving Neverland, which has thrown the late Jackson's legacy into question nearly a decade after his death. (AFP)

Leaving Neverland
Director - Dan Reed
Rating - 4/5 

It’s astonishing that Leaving Neverland got made, especially since similarly risky films have historically had a rather difficult time.

Only a few years ago, director Amy Berg’s An Open Secret, which claimed to have resounding new information about filmmaker Bryan Singer’s history of child abuse, was buried by Hollywood. It remains unreleased. Singer, meanwhile, has since directed his fourth X-Men movie and the multiple Oscar-winning box office smash, Bohemian Rhapsody.

Watch the Leaving Neverland trailer here 

I remember An Open Secret making exactly the same kind of noise in its festival run as Leaving Neverland did at Sundance this year. Both films promised unquestionable new proof that would end all debate about their subjects’ innocence; both films boasted shocking first-person testimony, and were heaved along by solid buzz.

I have not seen An Open Secret, but I can imagine the sort of impact it could have had if it not been blacklisted. Perhaps Singer would not have been allowed to direct Rhapsody, and thereby not cash in the reported $40 million paycheque he received for it.

It remains to be seen what sort of impact Leaving Neverland will have on Michael Jackson’s legacy. MJ certainly has more defenders than Singer - he remains the world’s highest earning dead celebrity - and his fans’ dedication towards him has historically been proven during the well-publicised trials he has been through.

Leaving Neverland, which was aired on HBO in two 2-hour parts over the weekend, is neither an indictment nor is it particularly journalistic. It is a staunchly one-sided account of Jackson’s alleged history of child sexual abuse, as told by two brave men who only recently decided to step forward with their stories.

Wade Robson in a still from Leaving Neverland.
Wade Robson in a still from Leaving Neverland.

To make matters more complicated, one of them - the famed choreographer Wade Robson - had testified in defence of Jackson at both his previous trials. Robson first became acquainted with Jackson as a seven-year-old. Like so many children his age at the time, he worshipped the King of Pop - he’d plastered his walls with Jackson’s posters and taught himself all his signature dance moves.

The film’s other subject is Jimmy Savechuck, who was in many ways inspired to come forward with his own story after watching Robson go public with his. Like most accusers, both men have been pilloried by the public, who have questioned everything from their intentions to their reasons for not having said anything earlier.

Leaving Neverland isn’t an easy watch, but no sane person would expect it to be. For four unrelenting hours, it forces you to confront your emotions as Robson and Savechuck - framed mostly in close-ups - go into deeply agonising details about what Jackson allegedly did to them.

Jimmy Savechuck in a still from Leaving Neverland.
Jimmy Savechuck in a still from Leaving Neverland.

I see no point in repeating their allegations here. It is not my story to tell, and nor does it have any place in a review of this film. In fact, reviewing Leaving Neverland feels just as uncomfortable. Am I supposed to tell you whether or not you should watch this film, a horrific story about the most terrible tragedy that could befall a human being, based on whether or not I found its subjects compelling or believable enough? Would a star rating suffice?

While the filmmaking in Leaving Neverland is always rather rudimentary - talking heads are intercut with (frequently repeated) archive footage - it is impossible to look away. Regardless of how well-versed you are with Jackson’s history, the level-headed manner in which the film conducts itself adds to its credibility, as does Robson and Savechuck’s inherent forthrightness.

Watching their stories unfold - in parallel now as it was back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, when the alleged abuse happened - you can’t help but wonder how Jackson managed to convince not just their parents, but the entire world that it was perfectly fine for an adult man to invite children over to his Wonkaesque wonderland, and sleep next to them in the same bed.

Also read: The Tale movie review: An unmissable experience, one of the bravest films of 2018 so far

He was a man who had his own demons - his complicated relationship with his father has been well-documented - and he chose to overcome them by waving his immeasurable wealth and power around.

Leaving Neverland has a low opinion of people. When it is not crucifying Jackson, it is passing decisive judgement at Robson and Savechuck’s mothers, who allowed their children to continue spending time alone with him even after allegations of abuse had been made by others. Against all odds, it is a TMZ staffer who delivers the most sensible statement in the entire four hour film. In a quick clip towards the end, he says, “They (Robson and Savechuck) shouldn’t be suing Jackson, they should be suing their own mothers.”

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The author tweets @RohanNaahar

First Published: Mar 06, 2019 16:10 IST