Netflix’s true-crime epic ‘Killer Ratings’ chases a wild story. For far too long

Netflix’s Brazilian docuseries Killer Ratings is an exhaustive and exhausting experience.

It has an irresistible hook sure to catch the eye of true-crime diehards and casual fans alike: Wallace Souza, the host of a popular news show, was alleged to have orchestrated the crimes that his show covered. Killer Ratings takes a long, hard look at the Souza case and all of the key players.

Director Daniel Bogado certainly did his homework. Killer Ratings features a lot of archival footage, mixed with present-day interviews. It’s a typical true-crime documentary. Despite the series’ girth, it runs out of steam and is tedious for long stretches. With a runtime of just under seven hours, broken up into seven episodes, Killer Ratings is a taxing sit. It pales in comparison to recent lengthy docs like O.J.: Made in America or Lorena.

Killer Ratings
two stars

 

RELEASE DATE: 5/31/2019

DIRECTOR: Daniel Bogado

STREAMING: Netflix

This true-crime docuseries starts with a bang but spends too much time letting the apparently guilty party tell its story.

The biggest problem with Killer Ratings is Souza himself. Souza is charismatic, passionate, and appears to be a hero for the overlooked. He’s magnetic on camera. He started his news show, Canal Livre, in response to rampant crime overrunning the Amazonian capital Manaus. Souza was also a politician, with his popularity as a broadcaster carrying over into his political career. Serving as a representative in the Legislative Assembly of Amazonas, Souza routinely garnered record vote totals. With Manaus caught in the middle of a major drug trafficking route, the city could not handle its exploding crime rate. Through Canal Livre, Souza built his reputation as someone who was unafraid to stand up to crime. He wanted to make his city a better place and did his part. People loved him.

Souza was also as disingenuous as the day is long.

Police arrested a man named Moa for murder, and he had quite the story to spin. Moa told police that not only did he work for Souza, but also that the TV host was actually the head of a brutal crime organization. Thus began the swift downfall of Souza.

Bogado and Killer Ratings dutifully charts the full investigation into Souza. At times Killer Ratings is insightful and gives viewers a close look at what it takes to bring down someone with great power. The problem is that it is obvious that Souza is more guilty than not, and we spend a great deal of time listening to the man profess his innocence. Souza frequently invokes his faith that God will take care of everything. Souza’s friends, family, and co-workers all take turns denouncing the case against the disgraced host. But their words are no match for the facts of the case, which tell a different story.

After a compelling opening hour, Killer Ratings quickly falls into a repetitive pattern for the next six episodes. Each episode is full of accusations, which are promptly denied by the pro-Souza contingent. However, the evidence corroborates almost every allegations. There is no mystery here.

Watching people lie can be fascinating and illuminating. Watching Souza and his defenders spout their apparent lies here is insufferable. I’m not sure what the appropriate number of teary-eyed statements from members of the Souza family is, but I know Bogado exceeds it. We aren’t necessarily learning new information about Souza as much as we’re seeing people carry water for a powerful man.

The defense of Souza is that he is the victim of political and personal persecution by the press. We’re at a point now where the “fake news” defense, the go-to claim of the criminally guilty, plays like a joke. I mean, it’s one thing to say you’re being treated unfairly by press coverage. But when a police warrant of Souza’s home produces large amounts of cash, illegal firearms, lists of rival drug players, and bullet casings that match a murder Souza’s son, Raphael, is accused of committing, perpetuating Souza’s defense becomes insulting. Killer Ratings features so many hollow defenders of Souza that it eventually starts to feel insulting to the audience. It becomes grating before its halfway point and never recovers.

Bodago’s quest to present both sides crescendos in the doc’s closing moments. Souza dies of a heart attack before he can stand trial for his myriad alleged crimes, and the last 10 minutes turn toward hagiography. I soured on Killer Ratings long before the end, but this moment actually made me angry. We see Souza’s funeral and the scores of people who adore the man, and it’s affecting. No matter where you stand on Souza’s guilt or innocence, it’s fascinating to see the outpouring of emotion for someone who was probably a monster. Killer Ratings closes with a clip of Souza talking about having a good side and an evil side, then asking if it’s possible for there to be more than one truth.

Spending seven hours of storytelling just to land on “people are complex,” is flabbergasting.

The problem with this ending is that it hints at what Killer Ratings really should’ve been about. There’s no doubt Souza had a massive impact on Manaus, for better and worse. But all we see are police officers and journalists telling us that Souza was bad, and murderers, liars, and criminals telling us Wallace was good. That is not a compelling story. Especially because one side of the argument has significantly more compelling evidence. By keeping the narrative so close to Souza and his case, Killer Ratings sacrifices telling the much larger story of Manaus.

Killer Ratings has its moments, but not enough to outweigh its frustrating aspects. My recommendation, if you do watch Killer Ratings, is to turn it off once you decide how you feel about Souza and the allegations against him.

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Eddie Strait

Eddie Strait

Eddie Strait is a member of the Austin Film Critic Association. His reviews focus primarily on streaming entertainment, with an emphasis on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and other on-demand services.