Like Father Like Son

Tell me about dad.

There are some actors out there who are so great in a particular TV show you like that you want to see everything they do.  Michael C. Hall is one I suspect many people share my views on.  He was great (great!) in Dexter (2006-12) and very good in Six Feet Under (2001-05), but hasn’t been even good in much of anything else.  For me, Matthew Macfadyen (though with much more upside beyond MI-5 /Spooks), and Robson Green (from Wire in the Blood (2002-08)) all fit in this category.  Rarely do they come near your expectations for them.  That should be predictable when you consider how wide the quality spectrum is for television with respect to writing and technical back-up.  The shows were good because they had a strong cast and crew around them.  Still, these actors chose the role and the show, so that should count for something.

Dominic (Robson Green) is really into Dee (Jemma Redgrave).  Dee has interesting tastes in men.  Her ex-husband was a serial killer (Philip Davis).  She’s got a son, Jamie (Somerset Prew) who’s above average in intelligence as well and angsty weirdness.  Dominic’s daughter Beth (Francesca Fowler) really wants Dominic and Dee to be together.  Well, when it comes out that Jamie is the son of a serial killer, things get tense at school.  A girl, Morag (Georgia Moffett), is putting it around school that she’s been having a relationship with Dominic (an English teacher at the school).  That same girl (that Jamie had a crush on (and subsequently threatened when she rejected him in a particularly mean way)) is strangled to death.  Things remain tense.  Whodunit?

I’m wicked conflicted about this movie.

First of all, it’s a TV movie.  It’s a pretty good TV movie, but certain characteristics pervade.  Characteristics like near-bipolar relationships and conversations where people flip attitudes from scene to scene.  People will get very angry and make jerky, aggressive movements and then quickly resolve the disagreement (or whatever).  People say sappy things like, “I’m going to fight for you, Dee.”  Yuck.  It’s also edited for television and so there are ad breaks and, obviously, a big stop in the middle.  These are systemic.

On the other hand, it’s British and all British things start with an extra 25 bonus points in their favor.  I’m not defending it, I’m just telling you how these things work.  A line has to be pretty bad for it to ring hollow when spoken in a British accent.  Even the one I mentioned above, which they dare to use more than twice, is almost plausible when Robson Green says it.  I can’t tell if it’s just a blind spot of mine or everyone’s which explains why villains are so often played by the British turning junk dialogue into menacing gold.

But the last straw, one that is unforgiveable, is that the detective in this story is crap.  I was ready to forgive the Lifetime vibe and fleshy sappiness, but when you’ve got the best detectives in the world as your guide, how can you possibly write these two?  They’re pushy and obtuse.  They’re kind of the enemy of the piece.  Instead of being our guides to sort out the facts (which are purposefully ambiguous throughout, sometimes without justification), they’re in the way of things.  They don’t assemble anything like a workable theory.

In one way, this is acceptable behavior.  It could be about how police (and people) rush to conclusions and the terrible cost of confirmation bias.  But it isn’t.  Because they are inconsistently biased.  Not only that, but they browbeat a child like he’s trying to evade them.  That came in far too quickly.  First, you get their story out of them and then you pick it apart, that’s how a mystery is supposed to work.  You don’t just scream “You did it, didn’t you, they kept calling you weirdo and you just couldn’t take it anymore.” That kind of language comes up when you’ve actually got some kind of evidence and you’re pretty sure he did it.  Thus, they just look like meanies.

There was another little flub, I think, in that they gave us a major hint (to the point of revelation) well before it was due.  I mean, I am the best freaking arm-chair detective in the business, but I suspect that a certain scratching was enough for most to put the pieces together enough to exonerate a certain someone.  I like the move, but not the timing.  That’s instinct, I think.

I just noticed I didn’t spend a word on the performances (directly).  There’s a lot of pressure to put on an actor to play ambiguity and moreso to put so much weight on the ambiguity and give it to a young actor.  Prew does not crumble under the pressure nor does he carry the film.  Green makes the whole business watchable (NB: I am a major fan of Wire in the Blood and came into things wanting to see him).  He plays the normal person well.  Redgrave, on the other hand, has a couple scenes of brazen overacting.  She gets all the emotions, so that’s to be expected and without gloss or close-ups, emotion looks overacted.  And, if I’m honest, Fowler was kind of bad (but it was her first gig).

Like Father Like Son (2005) is a two part television movie for ITV written by Shaun McKenna and directed by Nicholas Laughland.  I’m afraid that both made some inartful moves that kept this thing from being the pretty good movie it might have been.  You’ll excuse me, but movies that have “what if’ taglines go into the instantly suspect category.  Here, it’s “What if your son is a serial killer?”  I’m pretty sure that this tagline has been acquired by the movie We Have to Talk About Kevin (2012) which is supposed to be quite good.  It probably spent the time developing just a couple characters rather than four or five.

These kinds of tagline basically mean that the story will not be interesting.   It’s lazy is what it is.  It’s like a forfeit.  You’ve dropped the pretense of a plot spine and put all your chips on execution—actors, dialogue, direction.  That’s too much pressure to put on a TV movie with a fraction of the budget that the tagline “What if dinosaurs came back” would require to be excellent, let alone plausible.

Still, I don’t feel like this was two-plus hours of my life I’ve lost to fruitless enterprise.  Jeepers Creepers was a waste.  This was on the better side of middling.  After all, I did care about the story and wanted to know how things turned out.  That says something, surely.

About Prof. Ratigan

A semi-lawyer and amateur enthusiast.
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