Case Number 22720: Small Claims Court


MPI // 2011 // 87 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Franck Tabouring (Retired) // November 12th, 2011

The Charge

An Errol Morris love story.

The Case

This goes without saying, but Errol Morris is a genius at what he does. A gifted documentary filmmaker capable of generating fascinating stories, he's responsible for films such as 1978's Gates of Heaven, or, more recently, Fog of War and Standard Operating Procedure. The subjects he picks for his documentaries are often controversial, but you can bet they're also deeply engaging, just like the interviewees he recruits. Morris' latest contribution to the doc genre is a little masterpiece titled Tabloid, which focuses on the bizarre story of Joyce McKinney and her infamous abduction of a Mormon missionary she was and still is madly in love with.

McKinney's scandal surfaced during the 1970s, when the former Miss Wyoming and model fell in love with Kirk Anderson, a Mormon who would soon leave the United States to do missionary work in England. With the help of a loyal companion named Keith May, Joyce tracked Kirk down and took him to a small-town cottage, where he claimed she chained him to a bed and forced him to have sex with her. To this day, she claims he accompanied her willingly, and to this day, he remains the love of her life. Morris' film not only focuses on what happened between Joyce and Kirk back then, but it also spends a considerable amount of time exploring the massive tabloid scandal that erupted as a result of her bizarre actions.

Although this may sound like a lot of information at once if you're not familiar with Joyce McKinney, Morris masterfully keeps all of the events surrounding the "sex in chains" case organized. Most importantly, Morris got Joyce herself to sit down with him and tell her side of the story. The result, dear readers, is astonishingly captivating. As eccentric a character as she is, McKinney lights up in front of the camera, making the whole thing sound like one fast-paced, exciting adventure. It is only as the story unfolds that viewers will likely start to feel deeply disturbed by her behavior and her recollection of the events.

Other interviewees include a pilot Joyce hired to fly her to England, and a journalist and photographer who played key roles in the resulting tabloid war. You see, while the Daily Express offered a detailed profile of Joyce and her story, the Daily Mirror went the other way, publishing indecent photographs of her all while claiming she was earning a living as a nude model. Without revealing too much, let's just say they didn't exactly paint her as a responsible human being. Either way, Joyce made headlines around the world, and it all came close to destroying her life.

Tabloid is one thrilling ride from start to finish. The movie runs for only 88 minutes, but somehow you just wish the story would continue. Surprisingly, this is a documentary that barely features B-roll or other elements to cover up the on-camera interviews. Morris chose to add in some scans of articles and photos complementing some of the things Joyce and the other interviewees talk about, but that's mainly it. What viewers get to see is Joyce sitting in a chair looking into the camera, telling her story as vividly as you can imagine.

Luckily enough, watching interview footage most of the time does not get boring -- not with Morris. As you may already know, he invented the Interrotron, a sort of modified teleprompter that has Morris and his subjects facing a camera. It's a device he uses for all his interviews, and it enables people to look directly at him instead of staring into the lens of a camera. For his viewers, the experience is just as ideal, primarily because they can literally make eye contact with the subjects through the screen. It's a fascinating technique.

Tabloid will have you on the edge throughout. To this day, the Joyce McKinney case remains a strange web of odd stories, accounts, and beliefs. Kirk Anderson declined to be part of the film, but he never backed off his claim that Joyce kidnapped and raped him. Joyce, on the other hand, still believes to this day that Kirk was brainwashed by the Mormons. Morris doesn't pass judgment in the film; he simply lets his subjects talk. We as the spectators start to feel all sorts of emotions along the road, involuntarily building a fascination with Joyce and her extremely odd personality. Truth be told, a film that can achieve such a reaction only deserves praise.

The DVD includes an excellent 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer of the film. Interview footage looks crisp and is perfectly lit, while the little B-roll there is meshes in well with the overall mood and style of the film. Audio doesn't disappoint, either. You won't find any special features on the disc, but then again, this doc doesn't really need any. The main feature is so intriguing, you'll probably want to watch it again and again.

What can I say? Morris did it again, and I'm not surprised. Whether you heard or followed the crazy story of Joyce McKinney, this one's worth your time. It's about as memorable as a movie about an abduction and tabloid scandal can get. Your DVD collection will thank you.

The Verdict

Not guilty.

Review content copyright © 2011 Franck Tabouring; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 95

Perp Profile
Studio: MPI
Video Formats:
* 2.40:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)

* English (SDH)
* Spanish

Running Time: 87 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks
* None

* IMDb