2.6 million dollars, 3,000 teenagers, two corrupt judges, and one unforgettable scandal that shocked a Pennsylvania county and the nation. This is the case of thousands of lives affected by sinful greed and moral corruption. Most importantly, this is the story that Robert May undertakes in his most recent project, Kids for Cash.
Kids for Cash takes on a monster bigger than itself. In the end, it exposes that monster’s true identity as a once-respected discipline advocate turned vile villain at the expense of harmless teenagers. The film covers the scandal that involved former President Judges of Luzerne County, Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan, and a massive collective of wrongfully detained teenagers that were dealt injustice for more than a decade.
There can be much praise given to the individuals in this film harmed by the actions taken by the greedy. However, in Kids for Cash, praise must also be bestowed on filmmaker Robert May. He succeeds in delivering a story about a highly controversial topic that considers both sides of the argument. Not only is he able to explore the lives of these troubled teens and families, but he approaches the lives of the villains like a fly on the wall. By leaving bias behind, May is able to give the audience the satisfaction of hearing both sides of the story, as opposed to having a one-sided onslaught of information funneled down their throats.
May’s execution of character development in such a gritty story is also noteworthy. Instead of drilling the audience with facts of a major scandal that occurred, May took it upon himself to build an incredible film in the editing room. The intercutting of interviews with the teens and their families and old family videos resonates with the audience. This method instilled sympathy and regret of a time that was never had as these teens missed out on traditional teenage experience. The film went a step further and intercut the interviews of Mark Ciavarella with clips of his old family videos. As a result, Ciavarella emerged from a state of utter villainy, into a state of humanization. No, the audience did not sympathize with this man, but they were able to witness him as hurt as the humans that he incarcerated.
Kids for Cash is an extraordinary feat. It’s a revealing character study full of heroes, anti-heroes, and villains. There’s greed. There’s turmoil. There’s salvation. Most of all, there’s a story to be told, and it’s told well.
Kids for Cash open today in Philly theaters.