With Casting JonBenet, director Kitty Green, whose credits include the similar, meta-documentary The Face of Ukraine: Casting Oksana Baiul, is interested in the way the murder is remembered by locals in Boulder, Colorado, where the shocking incident occurred. Any details of who, what, when, where, and why are spouted by individuals who aren’t completely certain of the facts. Green also leads these people to believe that they are auditioning for parts in a movie that would dramatize the murder. But there is no other such movie. The making of the "movie" is also the finished product.
First we see girls up for the role of JonBenet, but the casting of the title figure is not the focus. It’s the adults, amateur actors and wannabes trying out for the parts of the parents, Patsy and John Ramsey, as well as the police chief and a Santa Claus, who provide Green with recollections, hearsay, rumors, theories, and judgments on the case and the people they’re hoping to portray. Many of them offer up their own personal stories and subjective thoughts on the murder, all of it to stress how we filter tragedies and often make them about ourselves.
Although quite original and clever, Casting JonBenet follows a tradition of true crime documentaries that play with ways of seeing, particularly through the use of unreliable or limited testimonials and speculative “reenactments.” At best, the variations of scenes recall director Errol Morris’s masterpiece The Thin Blue Line (also on Netflix), which illustrates discrepancies in actual first-person accounts by showing, say, an officer outside a police car, as she’d initially claimed, then inside the vehicle, as she later confessed. In Casting, however, we see moments like JonBenet’s bedtime the night of her murder reworked to represent different imagined situations, from her being innocently tucked in as normal to her being victim of a heinously arranged sex crime.