The Elizabeth Smart Story (2003)
The name Elizabeth Smart meant nothing to me before I watched "The Elizabeth Smart Story" and to be honest it didn't mean much more to me after. Before you get angry let me explain, as a movie "The Elizabeth Smart Story" does little to make this true story come alive, the various characters from Elizabeth to her parents feel just that, characters. And so when the movie comes to an end having retold the true story of Elizabeth's kidnapping with the occasional moment of poetic licence you are still left as an observer, or at least you are if you don't already know the story. It is almost one of those movies which is made for those who followed the true story in the press and want to either relive it or know more.
But having said that this true story whilst failing to make the story of Elizabeth Smart come to life works in another way and that is to bring to life the unsettling times following a child being taken. It is a sad thing that this sort of thing happens and when ever it does it garners a lot of media but as such you only see what is presented to you. "The Elizabeth Smart Story" actually digs a bit deeper so you can understand a little more what goes on and how people react to certain things and how the press can portray something in a way to grab headlines.
So as to the actual story well I don't know how much of what is shown in "The Elizabeth Smart Story" is true and how much is poetic licence. It feels to me that certain aspects such as the delusional religious aspect of Emmanuel seems over played but I am sure the heart of the story is still the same.
But as I said it is almost the behind the scenes element which makes "The Elizabeth Smart Story" work starting with when the police question both Lois and Ed Smart with their initial line of investigation to see if Ed actually abducted his own daughter. It is unsettling and harsh, making you feel for Ed because we know he is innocent, yet at the same time makes you realise that this is how it is, how statistics have lead police to have to suspect someone close to home to be the kidnapper in child abduction cases. We also get the media melee as they try and grab eyes with salacious stories about friends and family and where even something said in confidence is not private. It is the side of the "The Elizabeth Smart Story" which really works because it makes you realise the stress a family goes through not just from the loss of a child but from outside sources.
We also get the police jumping on a single lead and putting their full weight behind it when they suspect a robber of being the kidnapper. We know he isn't but you can see how the police operate needing a result and having to go after what stacks up to be the best bet even when there is not enough evidence to prove otherwise. And we also see how after some time for the sake of the family closure can be needed as the stress becomes too much.
As such whilst I felt I learned little about the true story of Elizabeth Smart from watching "The Elizabeth Smart Story" what I did learn was all about what goes on away from the public eye, the press twisting facts, the police needing a result, the emotional need for closure and so on. It makes it a shame then that as a movie about Elizabeth Smart it doesn't quite work and it comes down to the simple fact that the people central to the story, Elizabeth, her parents Ed and Lois, Emmanuel as well as the detectives all feel like flat characters. We don't really get to know them deeply enough to make the connection and whilst there are moments of emotion as we watch Ed struggle as others seem to be giving up it is lacking something.
What this all boils down to is that "The Elizabeth Smart Story" didn't quite do it for me as a retelling of a true story. But then as an almost behind the scenes look at when a child goes missing and the turmoil of the media and the police making it stressful amongst other things it is eye opening.
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