It’s no secret that Netflix has been on fire it when it comes to original content these past few years. It’s said that Netflix spent over $15 billion on original content in 2019 and this year for the first time, Netflix-produced films garnered more Oscar nominations (24) than any other studio including Disney which owns nearly everything media-related in the world (take that, Mouse!). As the world’s favorite media streaming service, Netflix is hitting its stride at a time when more and more competition is trying to take a bite out of its market share.
One of the best parts of Netflix’s business model is that because they have millions of users paying a monthly fee to use their service, they have a constant stream of revenue coming in that allows them to take chances on their original content. Because of that, we are able to get content like Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez. Netflix has produced some of the most highly acclaimed true crime series of the last few years in the critically acclaimed Making a Murderer, Evil Genius and their documentary about Amanda Knox. Killer Inside fits nicely alongside these series/films.
Following the demise of once heralded New England Patriots football star Aaron Hernandez, this series tries to put together how a rising football star and role model for the Latino community could be a cold blooded killer off the field. In 2013, Hernandez was arrested initially for the murder of his fiancee’s sister’s boyfriend Odin Lloyd. Over the 3+ hour three-part series, director Geno McDermott unpacks the confounding tale of how this all happened as best as possible. McDermott and the editing team do a masterful job of tracking back and forth in Hernandez’s timeline incorporating interviews with friends, former teammates, trial footage and jailhouse phone call audio from the various people with whom Hernandez spoke while in prison. For a story that twists and turns as much as this one does, they really do a masterful job grounding the viewer and not overloading us with too much or too little information.
Many of the details of this story are very familiar, not just to football fans but to the public at large. This case was a huge deal. It was played out in public and while it wasn’t OJ Simpson-like in scale, it was still a case in the public eye for multiple years. So giving new information or drilling down on points that weren’t already well known was McDermott‘s real challenge here. He did a great job moving both forward and backward in the timeline in particular to incorporate the bombshell news that Hernandez was implicated, later indicted and tried for two additional murders.
I do appreciate that this film tried its best to tackle the why – what caused a high-profile athlete playing for the best franchise in the sport who had yet to hit his peak only being 23 years old to bafflingly murder someone from his own inner circle…and in such a stupid manner that he was so easily caught? The film visits and revisits the claims that Hernandez was gay or bisexual throughout the film with a corroborating interview with his high school quarterback, Dennis Sansoucie, that they were lovers in high school. That shame of who he really was and that should it come out it would ruin him was posited as a possible motive. McDermott interestingly knits the story of former Patriot offensive lineman Ryan O’Callaghan who came out as gay after leaving the NFL throughout the series. His tale demonstrates the weight of what being gay in the macho culture of the NFL is like and what that can do to one’s psyche. It was an interesting take and sadly a perspective that is far too uncommon.
Near the end of the film, it’s revealed that Hernandez definitely had CTE, the degenerative disorder from repeated blows to head/concussions. This, too, was listed as a possible reason. The doctor who examined his brain said it was the worst case she’d ever seen for someone his age. His family life is probed thoroughly and shows that cracks the developed after the death of his father pushed him into hanging out with the wrong crowd at the wrong time in his life. All of these things combined may have been the cause of what pushed him to do the unthinkable for someone who was legitimately on the top of his own world. It’s something that will likely never be known as the true motive died with Aaron Hernandez. The series never comes off as preachy, pushing the viewer in any specific direction as to how this all happened and why.
This is a well-made series and it has a particularly poignant end with his last recorded phone call with his fiancee Shayanna Jenkins and his then 4-year old daughter, a sad end to a life that should have been different. I will give infinite credit to McDermott for not keeping Odin Lloyd, his family and likewise Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado, the two victims of a murder for which Hernandez was ultimately acquitted, in the background. They deserved at least that.
Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez premieres today on Netflix.
Here’s the trailer: