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Netflix’s new documentary on Aaron Hernandez offers a gripping look at his descent into darkness

New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez speaks in the locker room at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, in a 2012 file photo.
New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez speaks in the locker room at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, in a 2012 file photo.Elise Amendola/Associated Press

The search for meaning in the life and death of Aaron Hernandez continues to intrigue Hollywood. The latest in an ever-expanding collection of documentaries on the fallen Patriots star premiered Wednesday on Netflix.

There’s not much new in the three-part series, “Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez,” directed by Geno McDermott and based largely on reporting by two estimable sports journalists, Kevin Armstrong and Dan Wetzel. But for anyone keenly interested in the Hernandez saga, it’s worth watching.

This is a new and improved version of a film, “My Perfect World: The Aaron Hernandez Story,” the trio released in 2018. The improvements are informed largely by interviews with sources who were prominently featured in “Gladiator: Aaron Hernandez and Football Inc.,” a six-part podcast and print series produced in 2018 by the Boston Globe and Wondery. The reworked product also relies on the recordings of jail calls between Hernandez and those close to him, many of which were first made public in the “Gladiator” project.

“Killer Inside” may fall short of fully holding accountable the people and institutions that enabled Hernandez, but it otherwise provides a comprehensive and compelling look at his journey from boyhood to the maximum security prison where he ended his life in 2017 at the age of 27.

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New England Patriots Aaron Hernandez is arrested and handcuffed at his home in 2013. Authorities later charged Hernandez with the murder of 27-year-old Odin Lloyd.
New England Patriots Aaron Hernandez is arrested and handcuffed at his home in 2013. Authorities later charged Hernandez with the murder of 27-year-old Odin Lloyd.George Rizer for The Boston Globe

The finest video documentary yet on the Hernandez tragedy, “Killer Inside,” is richly enhanced by archival footage, from a haunting portrait of Hernandez’s mud-caked face during his high school football career to an eerie image of Patriots owner Robert Kraft kissing his cheek after awarding him a $41 million contract. Kraft was unaware then that two innocent young men had been shot to death just weeks earlier from a car occupied by Hernandez.

The documentary properly focuses on those victims -- Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado -- as well as Odin Lloyd, a semi-pro football player from Dorchester who was murdered by Hernandez. The tender voice of Hernandez’s daughter, Avielle, who was left fatherless at the age of 4, also evokes sympathy.

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Several phone recordings in the documentary are particularly poignant or revealing. In one, Hernandez recalls coming unhinged after his homophobic and abusive father, Dennis, died when he was 16, and his mother, Terri, began a relationship with his beloved cousin Tanya Singleton’s husband, ripping apart the family.

"I was the happiest [expletive] little kid in the world, and you [expletive] me up,’’ Hernandez tells Terri. “I just lost my father, and I had nobody. What the [expletive] did you think I was going to do, become a perfect angel?”

When Singleton died of cancer at age 39 in 2015, Hernandez was locked up, awaiting trial, and distraught. In a conversation with his fiancee, Shayanna Jenkins, they both wept.

“I just want you to have a clear head and not to do anything stupid,” Jenkins said. “I just want you to know that I’m here for you and I’m always gonna be here for you.”

Dr. Ann McKee announced her findings on her examination of the brain of Aaron Hernandez during a press conference at Boston University on Nov. 9, 2017. She shows Hernadez's brain (right) compared to a normal 27-year-old's brain and the ventricular enlargement in Hernandez brain.
Dr. Ann McKee announced her findings on her examination of the brain of Aaron Hernandez during a press conference at Boston University on Nov. 9, 2017. She shows Hernadez's brain (right) compared to a normal 27-year-old's brain and the ventricular enlargement in Hernandez brain.John Tlumacki

The documentary explores the influence that football-related chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) may have had on Hernandez’s behavior. While former Patriot Jermaine Wiggins described the diagnosis as “a cop-out,” Suffolk County prosecutor Patrick Haggan, who tried unsuccessfully to convict Hernandez for the double murder, gave it credence.

Haggan, after researchers found Hernandez had the worst case of CTE ever diagnosed in someone his age, said, “It all made sense, that the seeds of this tragedy had started many, many years earlier.”

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Particularly chilling is Kraft, in an archived news interview, downplaying the dangers of CTE. The Patriots owner, noting that he, his sons, and his grandsons had played football, said, “I recommend to every mother out there who wants her son to grow up special that they play, too.”

By then in the documentary, Hernandez and the victims were dead.


Bob Hohler can be reached at robert.hohler@globe.com.