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8 out of 9 people found the following review useful:

Watch the documentary instead

Author: shanayneigh from Narnia
4 April 2010

This film is a run of the mill, made for TV drama, which I happened to catch in the middle of the night on a cable channel.

There's nothing exactly wrong with this movie, but the documentary "The Staircase" (Soupçons) by Jean Xavier Lestrade is far superior. It's one of the best documentaries I've ever seen.

The documentary is extremely suspenseful with unbelievable twists and turns.

Why settle for this fictionalized version?

Maybe I'm biased. If I perhaps hadn't seen the documentary I would have enjoyed this movie more. There's certainly nothing wrong with the acting or the suspense of the subject matter.

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4 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

Decent

6/10
Author: abgkasjlkasjla from Denmark
30 August 2009

I have never heard of this case, read the novel, watched the Sundance film that I understand, and believe to be, far superior to this, nor did I know of the existence of any of the aforementioned until earlier today, when I spotted this in the listings. Phew. Did you catch all that? I figured I'd give this a chance, and when the first few minutes of it revealed Treat Williams in the lead, I certainly felt confident that it would be worth the time. This deals with the case of a man who may or may not have pushed his wife down the stairs. The plot isn't bad, and it definitely develops plenty throughout. Pacing is reasonable. The mystery is genuinely interesting, and the many twists and turns kept me guessing from first to last frame. Acting varies, but I didn't find any performances to be downright poor. Cinematography and editing were surprisingly great, for a made-for-TV flick. I kind of agree with those that express the opinion that this sensationalizes something that really happened, and that that's not in good taste. There is blood, violence, disturbing content and, in the dialog, sexual material, in this. I recommend this to those that find themselves attracted to it. 6/10

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3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

Documentary is a must see!

7/10
Author: Perry Bee from On a distant star
8 October 2010

I watched the documentary on t.v some years ago, and was just not shocked about the raw brutality of this story, but the whole circus of having a camera crew involved in a part of this families life. How can you open you life up to a circus show when you just lost a loved one? The t.v film tells the story to great detail, but having seen the documentary before hand I advice to find a copy of it, although none have been found as a torrent as yet. When I hear or see any story about a crime I tend to have an open mind if some one is guilty or not, as that is part of the justice system, but the rule that goes hand in hand for me is, where there is smoke there is fire! and this case has lost and lots of smoke around it for me to have made up my own mind about what happened. If you watch this film I urge you to try and get your hands on the documentary, it is still by far the most bone chilling story I have ever seen, not just due to the nature of the crime, but the whole camera in your face allowing circus that goes with this story,I gave the film a 7, but a 10 out of 10 for the must see documentary.

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7 out of 11 people found the following review useful:

Staircase Murders- Watch Your Step Please ***

7/10
Author: edwagreen from United States
17 April 2007

Treat Williams gives another excellent performance in this true story about a supposedly successful writer on trial for the murder of his second wife. Did he or didn't he kill her by the staircase and make it look like an accidental drunken fall?

Williams does best when he is the victim of accusations. His sinister performance is remarkably done.

Did anyone ever bother to question why the other woman who met her death on a staircase 18 years before looked so good when her body was dug up?

This is also a story of strong family relationships. It depicts how part of that relationship begins to break up as the evidence begins to pile up.

A footnote to all this is that one should never start rejoicing with their attorney until the verdict is announced.

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3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

This Is Not The Award Winning Sundance Film

2/10
Author: crystal from Memphis
29 April 2008

This is not the same movie as the award winning Sundance film "The Staircase." Both movies are about the Peterson case, however this one is a heavy handed reenactment and the Sundance version is an actual documentary. "The Staircase Murders" reeks of those one-sided made for TV movies that came out in the 90's to profit off sensationalized criminal cases. The movie is set up like a a regular dramatization of events intermittent with fake documentary scenes. Basically referencing/ripping off the Sundance film which had unprecedented access to the case and persons involved. Don't be fooled, this TV movie doesn't let the audience decide their opinion based on all the facts. It doesn't even let the story unfold or have any gray areas. It's very condescending and pushes its agenda with supposed reenactments of interviews. If you haven't heard the story you should skip this and rent the Sundance film that is interesting, suspenseful, and objective. Don't watch this Hollywood knockoff that wishes it had got to the story first.

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2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

Good but not great

6/10
Author: TheLittleSongbird from United Kingdom
26 May 2010

This true-crime drama is a perfectly reasonable if not absolutely outstanding film. Starting with the good things, it is ably directed by Tom McLoughlin, Treat Williams is excellent as Michael Peterson being very enigmatic, and Kevin Pollack is just as good as his unprincipled defence lawyer. The other performances are variable, some are good others are so-so. The music is also very nice and the film is wonderful to watch visually, and the script is reasonable. While there are some good plot twists, the film can get episodic in places, and the pacing is pedestrian in parts. The characters also could have been developed more, that way I would have felt empathy for them, while the ending is just nice if not exactly one that makes you think wow that is clever and ingenious, why didn't I think of that? Overall, a nice crime drama to watch, but not outstanding. 6/10 Bethany Cox

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8 out of 15 people found the following review useful:

Could have been a little more

8/10
Author: MarieGabrielle from United States
18 April 2007

detailed regarding the Mike Peterson case and also his interactions in the community of Durham, N.C.

This film was also shown on Sundance- The Staircase Murder, which incredibly Peterson opted to have filmed in his actual home, going about day to day affairs, crying injustice and generally expressing contempt for the legal system.

While these cases have been done to death , Williams is excellent as a manipulative sociopath. What would it take for a person to murder a spouse. Remember the Jeffrey MacDonald case? That too, encompassed the community, the sentiments of people. People who simply could not believe the man could be capable of such an act.

Is there a way to gage marital discord, rage, hatred, simmering resentment? Anyone who enjoyed this case may also enjoy Fatal Vision with Gary Cole as Jeffrey McDonald. The truth is, whether the culprit is guilty or not, it is sometimes incredible to realize what people are capable of, in extreme circumstances. 8/10.

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Ripped From the Headlines!

Author: Robert J. Maxwell (rmax304823@yahoo.com) from Deming, New Mexico, USA
1 September 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Treat Williams is a best-selling author, father in a family with a loving wife and a couple of loyal children, two adopted. He's written a couple of essays critical of the police in his home town of Durham, North Carolina. So when his wife turns up dead at the bottom of the staircase they are alert for signs of foul play.

Williams claims she was drunk and fell backwards, hitting her head on the wall, killing herself accidentally. But a thorough investigation reveals all kinds of incriminating evidence. First, the wife died in a veritable blood bath with spatters on the wall. Second, the wine glasses from which Treat and his wife supposedly drank show his fingerprints but not hers. Third, someone has evidently tried to scrub away some bloody footprints around the body. The body itself seems somehow arranged and unnatural in its posture. An examination of the scalp shows not a single blunt force fracture but multiple lacerations and if she were beaned repeatedly. The "blow poker" -- an instrument used for blowing air into a fire -- could have been the instrument but it's missing from its supposedly accustomed location at the fireplace.

The case quickly turns a bit bizarre. Treat, a smooth and convincing speaker -- a novelist, after all -- invites a four-person camera crew into the house to record the death scene and the family's responses to the death, the investigation, and the murder trial that follows.

A scrutiny of Treat's background uncovers the fact that another woman he knew died under very similar circumstances. Treat himself is bisexual. A suggestion is made that he poisoned a friend in order to marry his friend's wife. He served with the Marine Corps in Vietnam but the film makes little of this except to note that, among his decorations, there is no official record of his two Purple Hearts.

The film leaves little doubt about its own conclusions, which accord with those of the jury in Durham. The guy did it.

The performances are routine, except for Kevin Pollack as Treat's defense attorney, who has a genuine grip on the role of the efficient and unflappable lawyer. The story sticks closely enough to the historical facts that it leaves at least a little room for doubt. Some real-life figures are introduced, including the famous Henry Lee, famous for his performance in the O. J. Simpson trial.

I don't know about the direction. Tom McLoughlin sometimes does stunts with the camera. Two examples: When the camera crew are filming Treat and his family, the image switches to black and white. I don't know why. Were the French film makers shooting in black and white? Next, a car pulls into a driveway. The camera moves along with the car's glossy rear fender until the vehicle stops, then droops and captures the opening of the driver's door and his foot stepping out. Then it follows the two feet inside a building. It just seemed like a failed attempt at art. There was a reason for it in Orson Welles' "Touch of Evil," but here it seems pointless, except to call attention to itself.

Peterson is still in prison. Nobody except Peterson knows whether he was guilty of some sort of chicanery or not. The film includes all the incriminating evidence, sometimes twisting it a bit to Peterson's disadvantage. The sentence he received, life without parole, requires premeditation, not an impulsive crime of passion. One juror, interviewed afterward, claimed that premeditation only takes "seconds." That's pretty dumb. He may very well have been guilty, but I don't think it helped that he was a phony medal winner and a bisexual to boot, the relative sophistication of some Durham residents notwithstanding.

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

A fairly good adaptation of a true murder case...

Author: Neil Doyle from U.S.A.
1 September 2011

THE STAIRCASE MURDERS is based on the actual Michael Peterson case and is one that I watched as it unfolded on Court TV several years ago. I was intrigued by the case since it involved a very nondescript looking man suspected of a heinous crime, who happened to be a respected writer who had a good reputation in his neighborhood.

Here the man is played by TREAT WILLIAMS, who does a very effective job of playing the rather snobbish author who looked down on the justice system in his community, alienating the police force by his critical newspaper columns about their ineptness in solving cases.

Watching the case with all of its twists and turns as it actually unfolded in a courtroom was much more interesting than this reenactment, even though the made-for-TV movie has a number of good points. The script barely has enough time to touch on all the incidents (including financial and sexual problems) and has changed things around for dramatic purposes to make things more concise.

None of the subordinate characters are really fleshed out, so the film depends heavily on the central performance of Treat Williams and that of his step-daughter, Caitlin (SAMAIRE ARMSTRONG) who begins to doubt his innocence after viewing the autopsy photos of his dead wife, Kathleen Peterson. She has presumably been killed in an accidental fall down a staircase.

Wisely, the script mentions several times that there was "far too much blood splatter" to account for a mere fall down the stairs. It also shows him staging the scene after her death. And when it turns out that his previous wife had a met a similar fate overseas, the doubts about his innocence become more evident by the time he goes to trial.

He's now serving life in prison without parole. Frankly, I never had any doubts about his guilt in the crime, but I note from the other comments that several viewers are left wondering whether he was innocent or not--which means that the screenwriters did not present the incriminating evidence against him strongly enough and made his character appear too sympathetic.

Let me tell you, Michael Peterson was a far less charming person in real life than he is in this film--although Treat Williams does a creditable job of depicting the man's flawed character. But the man was so complex that the actor is unable to fully suggest the evil intent required to commit the crime.

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