Tracey fully deserved his Gemini and Leo grand slam. He best conveys Milgaard's decline through abuse and sheer boredom over 23 years via an increasingly dysfunctional interaction with a prison yard wall that culminates in ranting to himself while his mother tries to hug him. Rose's performance as Milgaard's staunchly supportive mother is very strong, but wouldn't work without Tracey's. Tracey manages to show how judging Milgaard's guilt based mainly on whether or not he was a nice kid back in '69 is as appalling now as it was then. That it was, in fact, criminal in this case.
Everyone involved in perpetuating this farce of injustice, from the court system that failed Milgaard and continues to duck investigation right down to the bullies who picked on his sister in school, should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves. One might, if one were very generous, accept the original conviction as too much reliance on coincidence (though the coerced and otherwise tainted testimony makes this a hard sell). But the best explanation that the authorities in Saskatchewan can come up with for dragging their feet on reexamining Milgaard's case, on releasing him, on clearing his name over a decade after DNA testing became available, on convicting Larry Fisher (the actual rapist killer of Gail Miller) and on holding a public inquiry into the whole mess, is that Milgaard would have got out much sooner if he had just admitted his nonexistent guilt. I'm sure that the women of Saskatchewan feel so much better knowing that a rapist and murderer can get out of prison early if he just says he's sorry, but an innocent man can stay locked up for 23 years for insisting he's innocent. It seems quite clear that had Milgaard died in prison, his name never would have been cleared, that the authorities would have even preferred such a result.
I'm also sure that the film dramatized and condensed events and all the rest, but the facts that are out there are already bad enough. The two detectives, for example, who interrogated Milgaard and failed to get the real killer, should have done some hard time, themselves. The film does a very good job of showing how one man's conviction not only wrecked his life, but also wrecked the lives of his family, the friends forced to testify against him, Gail Miller's life (which was cut short) and the lives of the women whom Larry Fisher continued to attack. Maybe Fisher's victims and their families should sue the justice system. They certainly have cause.
Anyone who thinks that CSI et al's "guilty until proved innocent" approach is an advancement in law enforcement should be force-fed this film. There is a reason why English law (on which both Canadian and American law are based) states "innocent until proved guilty" and "better that a hundred guilty men go free than that an innocent man should be punished". This film shows, graphically, why.
The look is cool and different, with a sinuous style--think Miami Vice in 21st century Vancouver. Tracey is fascinating as the conflicted, but ultimately good-hearted, Jimmy. Talk about a guy trapped in a pit full of snakes. Scott is similarly fine as the professionally and personally beleaguered Mary. If you've been missing Helen Mirren in Prime Suspect, you'll quickly get hooked on Mary's tough, no-nonsense style. The fact that she's not your usual little-girl-lost blonde we seem to get in every cop show these days certainly doesn't hurt. It's really nice to get a modern noir story with protagonists you actually like. Jimmy and Mary, at least so far, are the good guys. It's just that they're very unusual good guys.
This is the kind of show that could claim a wide range of audience if it can get half a chance against the heavy-hitters on Tuesday night. Let's hope.
But not Canada. One of the stupidest bits was the idea that the Asian population would grow in California because new Chinese immigrants couldn't believe they would be enslaved upon arrival. As if enough Asians haven't moved to Canada over the years because they didn't like the conditions that America did offer. Surely, in this scenario, they would have simply emigrated to Canada, instead.
Basically, the film wants to drop us into the same spot where we are now, but following a Confederate victory one hundred and forty years before. To this end, the film's makers leave out all sorts of inconvenient historical trends and incidents like industrialism (the real reason why slavery became economically nonviable), Marxism, World War I, the expansion of the British Empire, the rise of Arab petropower and the Cold War. Russia doesn't even get a look-in. And the bit about Harriet Tubman and Lincoln in blackface is just straight-up offensive.
Strangely enough, modern Confederates in this film also share the views of modern extreme right-wing Republicans in our timeline. Why? People in the Confederacy were as varied a lot as people in the Union. Why automatically assume that we would have a repressed, conservative, homophobic, antisemitic Bible Belt dominating a Confederate world just because some fanatics who insist on perpetuating the conflict culturally are like this? This seems like an ignorant excuse to insult Southerners--not just White (both Christian and Jewish) but also Black, Hispanic and Asian. Nobody in the South gets off without a good slap. It's as if the filmmakers were looking for an excuse to indulge in every vicious Southern stereotype they could manage without causing a huge uproar. And no, deliberately making the Confederates unrealistically expansionist so that the filmmakers could turn the Japanese (whose army murdered tens of millions of Asians before and during WWII) and the Central and South Americans (who have their own obsessions with skin color and racial ancestry) into blameless victims of Confederate aggression doesn't make the stereotypes any more palatable.
As the Shaw quote that starts off the film notes, you'd better make people laugh while you're telling them the truth. This film does neither: it's not funny and it's neither honest nor truthful. It only exists to get a rise out of people. All it got out of me was a desire to get my money back.
Into this volatile toxic waste spill drives Trevor (Ian Tracey), Vaughn's colorful gambler brother, whom Steve has furtively invited up for the weekend. Trevor's attempts to rebuild burned bridges are complicated by Vaughn's self-righteous rage and denial about their abusive father and Trevor's suicidal desperation over a thirty-thousand-dollar gambling debt. None of this stops Trevor from effortlessly taking away the lead dog position from his baby brother and playing matchmaker/confidant to Jon and Steve, even as he becomes the lightning rod for the four younger men's anger and disappointment over their failed lives. Unbeknownst to the others, the ice-covered lake in front of the cabin where their father drowned himself seems to be calling Trevor home. Trevor's eventual breakdown under the pressure of being the designated scapegoat forces each of the others to face up to their own problems in a dramatic climax.
The characters (with one crucial exception) don't get enough time to establish their depth before the final scene, though the actors were clearly game for what looked like a very rough shoot (particularly for Tracey and Cummins). Cummins shows Vaughn's pain and confusion well with minimal dialogue when Vaughn finally confronts his demons in the shape of his father's antler-decked throne. Unfortunately, the script forces him to either pout or yell for most of the movie, aside from one embarrassing and self-flagellating scene with his ex and the strong conclusion. Similarly, Thomas gets no chance to establish Steve's reasons for the homophobia and self-hatred that make him reject potential soulmate Jon until the last scene. Nor do we ever find out why he is so protective of Trevor, despite Trevor's sardonic insistence on taking Jon's side. And Hewlett gives Bryan no depth whatsoever. But then, I've never got the attraction of Hewlett. His fans may feel differently. There's certainly a lot of him in this, but I felt Bryan was the only character who didn't grow at all.
Spottiswood fares better. In the wake of Steve's rejection, Jon struggles to get the others to accept his sexual orientation (not to mention his unconventional occupation) and vents to the sympathetic Trevor. Spottiswood does a good job of showing Jon as sensitive, but not weak. He more than holds his own in the hockey game that Trevor organizes and confronts Vaughn, Steve and Bryan at one point about their latent homophobia. He's outnumbered, but he's no wuss.
Finally, Tracey shines as Trevor. His complex, subversive performance powers the story to its dark conclusion, raising uncomfortable questions about how we blame child abuse victims for their scars while letting their abusers off the hook, especially if both are men. Tracey establishes Trevor as a solitary, troubled soul, burdened by his family-designated role as the Bad Seed. Trevor has fielded free-floating blame from his abusive environment all of his life. It reaches lethal levels at the end when he finally confronts his brother about their failed relationship, a loaded gun to his own head. He chain-smokes his way through the organizing of a string of good deeds for the others--ice-fishing on the lake, creating a hockey rink for the men to play on, engineering a poker game, starting up the hot tub that his brother begrudges his buddies and retrieving and setting up a projector for a bunch of home movies from the group's childhood. Yet, each creative act demands a blood sacrifice--while Jon and Steve have their passionate fling in the other room, Trevor matter-of-factly burns himself with a cigarette. Later, while fishing, he cuts himself with a fishhook. This latter act seems, by some disturbed logic, to spark his idea for the hockey rink. The very things he uses for comfort become instruments of punishment to appease and quiet the voice in his head that brands him a failure.
The film's clear plot line wraps up in a moving, yet mainly unresolved, ending. There are some strong metaphors and themes--the ice and snow, obviously, and the cold and deadly lake outside. The deer that Vaughn shoots appears to represent both his brother and himself. His guilty attempt to hide his deed is the first true crack in his angry facade. The use of nudity also shows the various ways the characters hide (and are forced to reveal) their secrets. The music does a nice job of setting the mood, particularly at the end. Also, both Jon and Trevor are presented as creative, intelligent, educated men who, ironically, fare a lot better in the wild than they do in civilization. The contrast between brutish, Yuppified civilization and creative, zen-like wilderness is subtle but pervasive. Nor is the latter approach presented as unambiguously healthy in a world that rewards working in a box over living a free life. The film tries to show the effects of the characters' actions on each other, not preach. No, it's not a perfect movie, but ultimately, it's a satisfying one, leaving plenty to think about after the final credits.
While it's no secret that this is a potential TV-movie pilot for CBC, the final product is a full-fledged feature film that makes recent British and American cinema thriller offerings look pathetic. The usual subtle Canadian acting and cynical writing pair up nicely with better-than-usual production values. Vancouver, as itself and not some other city, looks great.
Since this comes from Haddock Entertainment, a huge number of actors and actresses from Da Vinci's Inquest show up. My favorite was a cameo by Alex Diakun as one of Reardon's employees. Matt Frewer struggles a bit with his role, though, since Altman is unfortunately the weak link in the chain, one of Haddock's now just about patented paper-thin bad guys with no realistic motivation. This makes the cliff-hangerish ending more annoying than necessary.
Ian Tracey and Klea Scott, however, both finally get the roles that they deserve as leads and not back-ups to pretty people who can't act. Reardon and Spalding have a fascinating, almost Renaissance Italian, relationship--two great magnates who are inherently good, but are trapped in a dark world that worships ruthlessness. Both of them have underlings who constantly urge them to commit cold and vicious acts, just to show that they aren't "soft". Yet, it's the tough refusal of each one to sink to that lowest moral level that establishes an immediate common ground between them as soon as they meet.
I sincerely hope that the film's makers get their funding for a series, because there is a great deal here to explore. As the Canadians like to say, "It's all good."
Everyone is in a different situation: Da Vinci is mayor; Mick Leary is coroner; Angela Kosmo is back in Homicide but paired up with an old enemy; Chick is in Homicide; Zack is working undercover for Da Vinci; Leo Shannon has retired and "moved on", as Chick puts it; Bill the Police Chief, and his familiar Charlie Klotchko, are still around but chafing at having Da Vinci for their new boss. And there are new friends and potential enemies to match the new font in the new show titles--Da Vinci's two "handlers", an angry businessman, an even angrier gay rights advocate and a really torqued off homeless advocate. Some of these new characters are interesting, but most are pretty flat compared to the regulars, who have the advantage of lots of show history; introductory exposition is kept to a skeletal minimum in this pilot. Hopefully, these new characters will plump out eventually, but if they don't, I'm sure the regulars will take up the slack. The irony of the premiere's title--"Zero to Sixty Pretty Quick"--is that not only Da Vinci is expected to get up to speed in an hour, but so is the audience. It's a brand, new show; but it's also season eight. Vintage Da Vinci.
Fifteen years later, it has gone through numerous cast changes and spawned three spin-offs. Alas, despite occasional shots of the old brilliance in episodes like "Collision", it has also sunk deep into the morass of Dick Wolf's right-wing obsessions in the past six years. Half the time, I can't tell just what crime ADA Jack McCoy is trying to prosecute, and his conviction rate, compared to real-life DAs, is laughably low. Often, he seems to be trying people just for being rich, smug jerks. It's also quite irritating that African-Americans are so frequently portrayed only as druggies, pimps, prostitutes or irate professional victims (who always play the race card and get off), despite their appearance in the regular cast. The constant changes to the cast have further eroded the viewer's ability to empathize with the characters. They've become cookie-cutter outlines, not real people. It's not the fault of the actors. They're still good; it's the writing that sucks.
This used to be a brilliant, innovative show. But it has long since jumped the shark and it's not coming back. Let's put it to bed already.
Before he goes, Laurel's best friend, Elizabeth (Jennifer Beals), shows up unexpectedly. Her father has just died and she's fishing for sympathy. She is also an emotional pyromaniac. The film never comes out and says what her problems are, but words like "sociopath" and "borderline personality disorder" seem to float around her like the haze from the cigarettes that she smokes. Nor does she bring out the best in Laurel, who is already running around playing a distorted version of Supermom with a fixed, skeletal grin on her face. Elizabeth makes snarky comments to all and sundry, which Laurel cheerily waves off. Meanwhile, it's clear to the viewer (though not yet to Laurel) that Elizabeth has either seduced Michael already or is working on it really hard.
Michael leaves. Laurel and Elizabeth go out to a bar where Elizabeth gets drunk and confesses to being an alcoholic (as if this weren't already obvious). She also confesses to having slept with Michael. Laurel doesn't take this well, getting up and smacking Elizabeth twice in the face before storming out with Margaret. Later that night, Elizabeth comes home, ingratiates herself back inside the house and then goes up onto the roof...and it all goes pear-shaped after that. Especially once Michael gets back early from his assignment.
The script and direction are cold and clinical, which suits the two main characters and their problems. For a loving mom and smoldering slut, Laurel and Elizabeth are icy to the core. The beautiful, dark BC coastal scenery and some of the background music (particular RedSuedeRed's "Unlike You" during Laurel's scenes of artistic excess) contribute to a general feeling that the characters are drowning in cold water. The acting is good overall, especially Tracey as the husband and Hirst as the little girl. The scenes between father and daughter give the film its only real warmth.
Canadian films often take tired situations and turn them upside down. People don't do what you think they will and things don't turn out the way you expect. This one is a good example and is well worth a look.
But what really made the show jump the shark for me was when they sectioned the female anaesthesiologist on a psych ward for blowing the whistle on a surgeon. I suppose it was inevitable that a strain of misogyny would show up in this series, considering that it's written by a man about a Maternity ward. Until very recently, male obstetricians and gynaecologists have had such an appalling record for woman- hating that women usually prefer another woman for a GYN, even if she treats them as badly as the female junior doctor does in "Bodies". However, the sectioning was a bit much. You can't just do that, not even for the usual 30 days. If you could, the NHS would not be wrestling with the bad publicity of having seen several dangerously mentally ill people engage in random murders over the past few years--at least one of them after walking off a closed ward with no resistance from medical staff. Staff are not even allowed to use mechanical restraints on out-of-control psych patients in the UK. So, the author's assumption that you could just lock up a respected MD for reporting a colleague is, at best, obsolete and at worst, laughable.