Critics' Pick

What Happened in Vegas (R)

Documentary 83 min.
By Daphne Howland
Ramsey Denison has worked in Hollywood's trenches on reality shows and TV documentaries -- the kind of work that hones camera skills and storytelling chops. That came in handy in the aftermath of Denison's arrest, following his 911 call to report an instance of police brutality on the streets of Las Vegas.

Denison's documentary What Happened in Vegas is more than a revenge project. He unveils a pattern of police malfeasance, including coverups and lies, through disturbing stories of unjustified deaths.

It's a damning takedown of the city's powers that be -- casinos cozy with a sheriff willing to protect their interests, and a constabulary infected with a Wild West mentality, armed with military weaponry and prone to lies. He argues that those powers even abet a law enforcement debacle surrounding the recent mass shooting at an outdoor music festival that left 58 concertgoers dead and more than 500 injured.

Denison keeps up the pace -- those television skills coming in handy -- and unpacks a lot. But he also allows in some light. There are plenty of Las Vegas police officers who want things to change, and Denison gives them, and the victims' families, a voice.

Sin City is a peculiar place, where losing money is the main tourist attraction, but the problems Denison uncovers serve as a warning to all Americans. While African-Americans, unsurprisingly, took the brunt of the police atrocities he exposes, he also shows how bad police ultimately will maltreat anyone.
Ramsey Denison

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