'Without Bias' Is Without Insight

Z ON TV

November 03, 2009|By DAVID ZURAWIK

Maryland is again the focus of the ESPN film series "30 for 30" this week as it premieres Kirk Fraser's "Without Bias," a look at the career, death and impact of one-time University of Maryland basketball star Len Bias.

This production is part of the same film series that last month showcased Barry Levinson's documentary on the Baltimore Colts Marching Band, "The Band That Wouldn't Die."

The publicity notes promise "the most ambitious, comprehensive and uncompromising account of Bias' life and death ever captured on film." And I will say Fraser seems to have had excellent access to members of Bias' family, teammates, coaches, Washington-area media types who covered Bias and even the athlete's girlfriend.

But the best even the promotional material can claim is that Fraser "utilizes dozens of interviews ... in an effort to determine exactly what happened on that fateful night" when Bias died after consuming cocaine in a University of Maryland dorm room.

And that is what "Without Bias" comes down to in the end: an "effort" to determine what happened - not any kind of convincing determination. Like so many before him, Fraser ends up with a raft of unanswered questions. Bias' girlfriend says she never saw him use drugs, while the classmate who was with him in the room and was ultimately acquitted on four cocaine charges says today that he and Bias had used cocaine before.

To his credit, Fraser does explore some of the fallout - and the legacy of Bias' death that ranges from the resignations and dismissals at the University of Maryland, to passage of federal sentencing laws for users of small amounts of certain drugs.

What the documentary lacks is a strong dramatic arc. In the end, it feels more like a long magazine piece than a documentary film.

The death of Len Bias still has power, and the film captures some of that. But while it could have been a poignant meditation on all that promise lost, it merely leaves you feeling sad and somewhat confused about this athlete who died so young.

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