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Mary Stuart Masterson
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Brian Austin Green,
Excellent performances in a stunning real-life drama
Black & Blue is based on a novel by Anna Quindlen, scripted by April Smith (Emmy-Award nominated for her work on the TV series Lou Grant) and directed by Paul Shapiro, who has worked on a number of TV series such as 24, Roswell and Dark Angel.
It is the dramatic tale of Frannie Benedetto (Mary Stuart Masterson) and her flight from her abusive husband Bobby (an outstanding Anthony LaPaglia). Frannie has endured continuous physical and psychological abuse. She is a nurse, her husband is a cop, and theirs is a 10-year-old son, Robert (Will Rothhaar, who earned a Young Artist Award nomination for his performance). Frannie is very loyal to her family and caught in a harrowing dilemma. Bobby is a highly decorated detective, and she knows that cops protect their own. But when an acquaintance of her dies due to fatal blows, Frannie decides to end the nightmare and to protect herself and her son. She secretly contacts an organization that helps battered wives. The scenario she is presented with seems almost as bleak as her current existence. She must erase every trace of her past and sever all links to her family and friends. She takes Robert and flees to a new life in Florida. There she adopts a new identity and lifestyle. She soon encounters school-teacher Mike Riordan (Sam Robards), who is the complete opposite of Bobby and who introduces her to a life of romance and tenderness. But Bobby is already chasing after her by using his investigative skills, and Frannie has to find out that when you are married to a cop, you can run, but you cannot hide.
This is the basic premise. The concept is fairly simple. You have a wife who is forced by her abusive husband to leave everything behind and to start a new life with her son. The psychological implications of the years of continuous suffering have left obvious scars, but these years also provide the source of Frannie's basic strength and determination to start anew. This struggle is wonderfully transformed by Mary Stuart Masterson. She has the ability to portray both the fragility and the courage of her character. Her appearance grants the movie with substantial authenticity. It is her story, of how she finds her strength and what hardships she is willing to endure in order to save herself and Robert.
Bobby Benedetto is an erratic character who demands total obedience. He enjoys his power over his wife and humiliates her frequently. Then again he seems to love his son, and in fact, he never touches him in the course of the story. However, it is the psychological strain inflicted on Robert that makes him an abusive father as well as an abusive husband. Anthony LaPaglia is outstanding in his role. He is rugged and ambivalent, relentless and his ambitions to get what he wants and violent in his means. The scenes when his violent streak erupts are smashing. You do not expect a detective, who ought to belong to the good, to behave that way. He is cold-blooded and deceitful, a tremendously genuine and sinister antagonist who goes to any lengths to get what he wants.
My personal gratitude goes to Will Rothhaar as young Robert. He makes this movie not just good, but perfect. It needs a special kind of young actor to establish a genuine identification with a character, and he has the skills and and the talent to portray the hardships and struggles of Robert's quest to support his mom and to adopt to a new life. Robert is very much in the center of all emotional scenes. He suffers a lot, not just when he has to witness his abusive father, but also when he yearns for his home and his friends once he and Frannie reach Florida. This is exactly what you would expect from a young boy. The way he suspiciously surveys how his soccer teacher Mike Riordan enters into their lives and associates with Frannie is nothing but genuine. He never exaggerates, he is never overdoing things, but rather very much aware of his character's sensibility and the subtle strains that ensue his new life in an unknown community.
Sam Robards as Mike Riordan completes the outstanding quality of the cast. He is the perfect opposite to Bobby. He is gentle and sincere, and this honesty in everything he does makes it perfectly understandable why Frannie eventually falls in love with him. Mike means security and fills the gap in Frannie's doleful life. Robards never pushes and thus avoids his relationship with Frannie to become stereotypical.
The story as a whole is very strong and makes the audience automatically associate with Frannie and Robert. It is not an artificial movie dealing with phony developments, but rather a smashing portrayal of courage and steadfastness, of love and hope. The audience is very much drawn into Frannie's desperate struggle to escape. The story develops naturally towards the final confrontation, thus living up to the premise of classic dramas. Nothing is superficial, the actors are wonderful and the message of the movie is clear and unaffected: Never stop fighting to find happiness.
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