Frederic Forrest does a fine job as the emotionally and physically abusive father in this early entry in the "dysfunctional family" genre. Here's a toast to all the actors who have to do the dirty job of making child abusers, rapists, and wife-beaters come alive on screen; it must be harrowing, thankless work.
The writer and director should get credit too, for giving Forrest the lines and settings for his truly creepy performance. All the actors did well -- Justine Bateman was nominated for a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Deborah Jahnke -- but Forrest should get special kudos. (Don't you wonder if anyone would eat lunch with him on the set? or if they shunned him for the duration?)
The film's mission of revealing the gaps in our domestic violence policies works as well as a drama as a political statement. A teacher is slow to believe; a social worker questions the kids and mother about abuse in front of the abuser; the rural home has no near neighbors and the rural community presumably has limited shelter resources.
Gossip in town that acquitting the Wyoming teen will be a "license to kill" for other abused kids not only reflects this case (the writers relied on interviews, transcripts, and news reports), but echoes what was said about one of the first battered wives to go on trial for killing an abuser in Michigan, years before.
Watch it if you've got a strong stomach or a strong interest in domestic violence. Otherwise, it's too much of a downer to qualify as "entertainment," despite the excellent performances and powerful script.
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