Just Ask My Children is a true story, elaborating on the tragedy of the Kniffen family in 1982. This was the time of a nation-wide witch-hunt that tore dozens of families apart and brought many innocent parents into jail. Scott and Brenda Kniffen (Jeff Nordling and Virginia Madsen) live a happy life with their two boys Brandon, age 9, and six-year-old Brian. When wrong allegations of child abuse cause a state-wide hysteria, they find themselves in a harrowing nightmare. Without a shred of evidence, the Kniffens are arrested and their two sons are taken away from them and put into the custody of social services. There the impressionable boys are brainwashed, confused and utterly manipulated by a malicious prosecutor in his relentless ambition to put the Kniffens into prison. In court they testify against their own parents, which convinces the jury beyond the reasonable doubt that Brenda and Scott Kniffen are guilty of committing the heinous crimes they are accused of in the indictment. They are sentenced to 240 years each, the longest sentences ever imposed in Kern County. Scott and Brenda spend twelve years behind bars, suffering and praying to God, while their boys are put from foster home to foster home, confused and emotionally scarred.
The movie gains all its strength from this single, but tremendously strong theme. While following the developments of the story, the tragedy and the hardships imposed on this innocent couple makes everyone unwilling to believe that such an outrageous thing could have actually happened not yet 20 years ago. The reference to medieval witch trials occasionally surfaces in the story and makes the audience even more aware of how merciless the system can be in case of utter failure.
The toughest and most brilliant aspect this movie deals with is how the family is effected by the verdict. The story of the boys, as they mature and question their own past is wonderfully adapted to their emotional turmoil. Scott's parents and their continuous fight to prove the innocence of their son and Brenda is stunning in its passion and desperate commitment. The movie features various heart-breaking scenes that will leave you emotionally drained and makes you aware of how much suffering the family has to bear. The tragedy hits you so strong because you know the truth, and you feel so sorry for the entire family, good and decent people now thoroughly despised by the public and labeled as child molesters.
Brian and Brandon are played by Ryan Wilson (Cold Creek Manor) and Cody Dorkin at the beginning, then by Dan Byrd and Scott Bailey. Finally Gregory Smith (The Patriot) plays 18-year-old Brian, Scott Bailey again 21-year-old Brandon. The passing of the years makes the audience understand how long this struggle for justice went on and how desperate Scott and Brenda sought freedom to embrace their sons. The young actors portraying the two boys, above all Ryan Wilson and Cody Dorkin, do a great job. Ryan Wilson in particular made it straight into my heart, due to his performance in the court room, but also when he is yearning for his mom. The scene when Scott and Brenda are allowed to see their boys one last time is nothing but tough, because it shows the tragedy of the separation in all its brutality. You see this family, how much they love each other and how strongly they yearn for just being together again, but you know that they will remain torn apart.
Just Ask My Children will affect you, even more so if you consider it being based on a true story. It makes you mad at the relentless prosecutors and shows with smashing credibility how atrociously the system can fail. The emotional scenes are likely to force tears into your eyes, as you automatically associate and identify with Scott and Brenda. The story is really tough, not suited for kids and an emotional roller-coaster that will leave you terrified. This movie deserves a 10, no doubt about that.