|Index||3 reviews in total|
I teach writing. One of my students made a casual, dismissive comment about the quality of writing on TV. I sat him down to watch this episode and he was stunned and humbled. This is series writing at its subtlest and most intricate. A tragedy that begins and ends with bad behavior by banks. A contemporary death that has its roots in the history we never seem to outlive. And, in the middle of this, Karen Allen -- with maybe twenty minutes of screen time -- creating a character of unusual depth and resonance. LAW AND ORDER has had its ups and downs over the years, but when I think of those episodes when it's fulfilled the full potential of its premise, this (which was broadcast without much particular comment or attention) is the first I think of.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This episode is brilliantly written and acted.
The first half consists of a series of comic vignettes as the detectives seek to build a case against billionaire businessman Richard Peterson for the murder of his friend and coin dealer. There are several minor characters, each with only a minute or two of screen time. They include the "Italian aristocrat" who serves as the two men's mistress, but is actually from South Carolina; the rich businessman who "gets horny" thinking about coins as he works on his luxury yacht; the haughty restaurateur who refuses to divulge his clients' secret conversations; and the nubile young reporter who tried and failed to invite Peterson back for "coffee". All have memorable interactions with Briscoe and Curtis, Briscoe having a wonderful time flirting with the ladies.
Things turn serious when the focus of the investigation shifts to Judith Sandler, the child of a Holocaust survivor. Her father owned the missing coins, but was unable to recover them from a Swiss bank after the war. Sandler, wonderfully acted by Karen Allen, has an extreme personality: touchy, overwrought, claustrophobic. It soon becomes apparent that she is the real killer, but the evidence against her is suppressed when Ross exploits her claustrophobia in order to get her consent to search her apartment.
While Sandler represents tragedy, Peterson (skilfully acted by Michael Willis) represents comedy: a larger-than-life character who's having so much fun collecting coins and running his business empire that it's hard to dislike him, even when his lies unwittingly set into motion the tragic murder of his friend.
McCoy gets less screen time than usual, but Ross shines. Note especially her first appearance: the camera almost caresses her as she glides into the frame during Peterson's interrogation.
Law and Order had its strong and weak spells over its twenty years, but this episode sums up what could happen when everything came together -- perfect writing, camera-work and acting.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The writers of this series should have gotten medals. This episode is
about people who covet extremely expensive coins, even those that don't
exist, in order to use them as collateral, justify bragging rights, or
reclaim them as stolen family heirlooms.
It's not as if the writers sat down, got high on java mochas, and swapped ideas. They had to do homework on the subject. And they couldn't simply google "twelve Cleopatra dubloons" or something; they had to find out how coins were collected, stored, and sold on the market. It's the kind of material that, unlike Kekule's benzine molecule, doesn't come to you in a dream.
A man is found with his head bashed in on the floor of his rare coin shop. The detectives dig up various suspects, some of them working against each other. Motives have to do with maintaining one's own private Boeing 747 and with replevening the coin collection of one's father, stolen before the holocaust in Germany.
The usual complications arise. Knowing ahead of time that a suspect, Karen Allen, is claustrophobic, the Assistant Executive Minister of the District Attorney's office or whatever she -- Carey Lowell -- is, and two burly detectives crowd her against the wall in order to obtain permission to search her apartment. Naughty.
It's difficult to tell whether Karen Allen overacts the part of the neurotic or not because, as a neurotic, she's supposed to be overacting. The fourteen years since "Raiders of the Lost Ark" have changed her considerably, to the extent that she's barely recognizable and her voice is now a muted croak. Not her fault in any way, of course. Time changes all of us but it's a little sad when we see its effects in a professional actor or actress.
The award for the most spirited performance goes to Maurizio Benazzo as a sarcastic, gay head waiter in a fancy Soho restaurant. His gestures are flamboyant, the contours of his speech exquisite.
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