Long Shot Documentary Review: A Mind-boggling Story About Justice And Luck

Juan Catalan in Long Shot | Netflix
Photo: Juan Catalan in Long Shot | Netflix

Long Shot



Jacob LaMendola



Juan Catalan, Larry David, Todd Melnik






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"All of life is what if", is the line Long Shot starts with. Juan Catalan's opening words hit you immediately, making you ponder over what could have been if you would have made a different life choice.  And the choice doesn't even have to be a well-thought-out decision like choosing to go to college, to get a job, to get married - some of life's biggest. In this world of infinite possibilities, even the daily routine choices can take a turn for the best or worst. In Juan's case, his decision to go to a baseball match saved his life from incarceration and possibly a death sentence.

On May 12, 2003, 16-year-old Martha Puebla was murdered in front of her house. She was a key witness in a murder charge against Juan's brother Mario. With one eyewitness testimony and a facial composite to match, Juan was arrested as the main suspect. Despite numerous alibis pointing to him being somewhere else during the time of the incident, the prosecutor refused to budge. The sketch was too close a match and there was the threat of death penalty hanging over his head. Juan's lawyer had only one way of demonstrating his innocence: prove that he was at the Dodger's game at the time of the murder. It was no easy task, as Juan was one among the 45,000 attendees for that game. Talk about finding a needle in a haystack - in an era of grainy camera resolutions.

It is mindboggling how lucky and unlucky Juan is in this case. Unlucky, for the striking resemble the police sketch is to his face and that the prosecutor chose that sole evidence to convict him. Lucky, for the way Juan ends up in the footage of the famous HBO show "Curb Your Enthusiasm" along with the lead Larry David. Juan is a smart dude and incredible articulate when he speaks. He also has a great memory, which helped him remember of a film shoot that was taking place in the aisle he was sitting. That bit of clue leads a persistent search from his Lawyer to find the footage that would ultimately prove his client's innocence.

There's also a sad reflection on the justice system. His arrest was also based on Guilt-by-Association, taking that his brother was a gang member. The detectives and the prosecutors bend the rules of criminal proceeding, with the end goal not being justice, but the result of the conviction. Juan evaded the death penalty solely on luck. In the interviews, Larry David and the Production Assistant  Robert Gajic get a little teary-eyed, remembering how the fateful recording of the show saved an innocent man's life. The odds are just unbelievable.

The documentary ends with the question of 'What If'. The two words are enough to put you into a mini-existential crisis. However well planned our path towards the future might be, chance still plays a huge part guiding it. This is even truer for the people short on resources. We have built powerful institutions - with the Justice System being one of them - to mitigate the risks of chance. But, year after year we hear stories of people falling prey to it. There are a few stories, like Juan, whose lucky chance ended up saving his life. But, it could have been easier if the justice system did its job with dignity.

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