For a TV miniseries based on a true crime thriller, you'd expect standard movie-of-the-week fare. And The Sea Will Tell is instead a pretty taut thriller, well-written, well-acted and artfully put together. I'm convinced that this film isn't more well known because it had the misfortune to air for the first time the very night the ground campaign began during the first Gulf War. If you were watching CNN (and who wasn't), you missed it.
Rachel Ward, a highly underrated actress, is slightly miscast as the naive "hippie" waif Jennifer Jenkins, but she makes the best of a pretty meaty role, and her chemistry with Richard Crenna is spot-on. There's less chemistry between her and Hart Bochner, but his performance is excellent--he's certainly come a long way from his cartoonish portrayal of a slimy executive in Die Hard ("Hans...boobie...would I lie to you?"). The whole series, however, is stolen by James Brolin and Deidre Hall. The interweaving of flashbacks to the characters' time on the island with the courtroom scenes is skillfully done--something that, incidentally, Buglioisi failed to do well in the book this film is based on.
There's also some attention to detail here, and even (GASP!) some approaches at mise-en-scene. The Palmyra scenes, though colorful and lush, have a strange darkness and malevolence about them. I especially like the moody magic-hour sky in the oft-shown sequence of Ward and Bochner boarding their neighbors' yacht on the crucial night, and the rusty, moldering remains of military hardware that lurk in the underbrush. When contrasted with the chic mid-80s San Francisco in which the courtroom scenes take place, you definitely get the sense that the Rachel Ward character has come a long way. You don't see a lot of that kind of subtlety in a TV feature.
This is a story that probably should have been a Hollywood feature. Barring that, however, it's still an excellent film. Recommended.
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