Reviewed By-Sean Patrick Dolan Director: Stephen Williams Cast: Wendy Crewson, Robert Davi, Shawn Doyle, Kristin Lehman, Reagan Pasternak, Sally Kellerman, Alex Campbell Source-MTI Video
When Judge Marcia Blackwell (Sally Kellerman) is murdered in her own home, there is no shortage of suspects. The former "hanging judge" had undergone an ideological change near the end of her career, favoring rehabilitation for criminals over harsh punishment. This has earned her the reputation of a "bleeding heart liberal" as well as the hatred of victims’ families- in fact, the last case she presided over ended with an irate husband shouting threats at her after she gave his wife’s mugger a very light sentence. Even the detective assigned to the murder, Alex Emanuel (Shawn Doyle), admits that he lost all respect for the judge after her change of heart. Judge Blackwell may also have made herself a target by trusting the very felons her colleagues in law enforcement would have preferred she put in prison. She was the main financial supporter of Daybreak House, a rehabilitation center founded by Wade Waters (Robert Davi), a man she had once sentenced to prison for criminal assault. In addition to being her lover, Wade may have had another motive for killing her- he stood to inherit millions of dollars in her will. Blackwell had also made a habit- perhaps a fatal one- of allowing street kids to stay in her gatehouse while they attempted to get their life back on track. The current guest, a young man named Eli (Alex Campbell), is nowhere to be found after the murder and is considered a suspect.
Finally, one can’t overlook the judge’s own daughters, Shannon (Kristin Lehman) and Lucy (Reagan Pasternak). Neither woman shows any emotion over her mother’s death and as she investigates the case, reporter Joanne Kilbourn (Wendy Crewson) begins to suspect that there are a few skeletons in the family closet . . .
VERDICT IN BLOOD is one of about a half dozen "Joanne Kilbourn Mysteries", a series of TV movies that ran on Canadian TV between 2000 and 2002. As such, it would be unfair to compare it to a sophisticated giallo- or any feature film. The movie is a straight-forward murder mystery and, as it was made for television, the violence is very mild and there is no graphic sexual content. The plot is well-written for a TV movie, and has a good amount of twists and turns as Ms. Kilbourn narrows down the field of suspects. To the movie’s credit, the breaks in the case come as a result of true investigation rather than dumb luck. Also, it should be noted that while the potential to indulge in social commentary was certainly present in the subject matter, this movie recognizes the scope of its format and does not overindulge. Typically, the cop investigating the case focuses all his attention on what he sees as the most likely subject, the ex-con Wade Waters. Of course, there is also some time wasted on filler scenes of Joanne’s home life with her teenage son and young daughter, as well as a burgeoning romance between Kilbourn and Detective Emanuel.
The movie’s true strong point is its solid cast. Wendy Crewson, who plays the title character Joanne Kilbourn, may be recognized from films such as WHAT LIES BENEATH, AIR FORCE ONE, and GANG RELATED. She has also made numerous appearances in TV movies and, most recently, had a recurring role on the show "24". Shawn Doyle has been seen in FREQUENCY and television’s "Desperate Housewives". Robert Davi- who gave the strongest performance in VERDICT IN BLOOD- is most recognizable for his recurring role on the late ’90’s series "The Profiler". He is also easily mistaken for actor Tommy Lee Jones. Last but certainly not least is Sally Kellerman, who played Judge Marcia Blackwell. Yep, that’s her- MASH’s Major Margaret "Hot Lips" O'Houlihan. A look at director Stephen Williams’ resume reveals that his stock seems to be on the rise. He has recently directed episodes oftwo hit shows on US television, "Las Vegas" and "Lost".
Overall, this movie is not a bad way to kill an hour and a half, an above average entry in the TV movie genre. If you like VERDICT IN BLOOD, it may be worth looking into some of the other Joanne Kilbourn Mysteries. I reviewed the 2004 DVD release by MTI Home Video. Extras include a scene selection menu, filmographies of the main actors, two trailers, and optional Spanish subtitles.
Story: 3.5 Bitch Slaps Extras: 2.0 Bitch Slaps Picture/Audio: 4.0 Bitch Slaps Overall: 3.5 Bitch Slaps
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