Hot Docs Review: 'The Dakota Entrapment Tapes' Approaches the True Crime Genre with Empathy Directed by Trevor Birney

Hot Docs Review: 'The Dakota Entrapment Tapes' Approaches the True Crime Genre with Empathy Directed by Trevor Birney
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The discovery of the body of college student Andrew Sadek in the Red River of sleepy North Dakotan town Wahpeton rightfully shocked the population who once believed their small town was incapable of such crime. With a bullet wound to the head, no firearm recovered from the scene, and a backpack full of rocks, the mysterious circumstances of Sadek's death drove a wedge between the shocked townsfolk, who suspected murder, and the police who ruled it suicide with little hesitation. When it came to light that Sadek had been pressured by the Southeast Multi-Country Agency (SEMCA) to become a confidential informant to avoid a possible federal drug felony after a lengthy process of entrapment, the revelation put the whole case into suspicion.

Trevor Birney's The Dakota Entrapment Tapes reopens the unresolved case to gauge how the small town of Wahpeton was irrevocably impacted by the shocking disappearance and death of Andrew Sadek and the police's hand in it. Casting a wide net over the details and probing the case from all conceivable angles with as many firsthand witnesses as it could muster, the film provides an exhaustively comprehensive timeline of the factors at play in this mystery of likely police injustice.

Named for the taped interview which revealed to Wahpeton that Sadek was coerced to be an informant against his will and forever altered the case in the public eye, The Dakota Entrapment Tapes is true crime documentary cinema done proficiently. Tracing the details of Andrew's life through his family and friends who were the last to see him alive, the film provides an engrossing portrait of him beyond the label of victim.

Where the film stumbles slightly is when it moves beyond this interpersonal angle and becomes slightly too scattershot by attempting a systemic breakdown in how exactly Andrew found himself in that tape being given an ultimatum by the suspiciously guarded Sheriff Jason Weber. When Birney broadens his focus to invoke the infamous War on Drugs and more specifically the drug use issue among university students, these topics are more touched upon then truly investigated. The strength of The Dakota Entrapment Tapes lies in its empathy and humanity in dealing with Andrew's circle of relations as they remember who was taken from them by police injustice; that same care and detail is missing when Birney tries to fill out this portrayal of Wahpeton.

Much with most true crime media, The Dakota Entrapment Tapes takes a complicated narrative and tries as best as it can to condense the details to fit a feature film length. The story could have been more detailed if it was a series, but Birney's dedication to Sadek's story shines throughout the film.

Hot Docs Film Festival has moved online for its 2020 edition. Buy tickets over at the festival's website. (Abacus Media Rights)