Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Bond of Silence (Bauman Productions, Jaffe/Braunstein Films, Lifetime Television, 2010)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2011 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

The film was a Lifetime production called Bond of Silence, a 2010 TV-movie at least loosely based on a true story, though the locale and all but three of the character names were changed. Set in the fictitious tourist town of “Rees Point,” Washington (a beachfront resort in the Seattle area), Bond of Silence begins on New Year’s Eve. Attorney Bob McIntosh (David Cubitt, considerably better looking than the common run of Lifetime leading men — which, of course, only means he’s going to get killed off early on!) crosses the street from his home where Shane Batesman (Calum Worthy), teenage son of a close friend of Bob’s, is having a wild party — no drugs, at least not that we see, but a lot of alcohol being downed by up to 200 underage people. Bob decides to play buttinski and go upstairs, where he finds a girl and a boy locked in a passionate embrace that seems to be heading towards the down ’n’ dirty, and as he walks farther into the bedroom he announces that Shane’s dad is a good friend of his and therefore he’s unilaterally calling a halt to the party, or at least its upstairs wing, and ordering all the kids to go downstairs. Some of them do but one of them, a local high-school football star, not only refuses but hits Bob and knocks him down, whereupon something happens — we get the information in dribs and drabs — and he ends up dead.

At first the paramedics think he had a heart attack but later on it turns out he was killed by being kicked in the head, and where the titular “bond of silence” comes in is that the teens who were at the party, many of whom were seniors in high school and had college, internships and other things to look forward to, make a pact not to cooperate with the police in the investigation on the ground that if they form a solid front, the cops will never be able to pin the murder on any of them and therefore none of them will suffer any adverse consequences merely because an adult died at their big party. The filmmakers — director Peter Werner (brother of TV producer Tom Werner, creator of Roseanne and briefly owner of the San Diego Padres) and writers Brian D. Young, Edithe Swensen and Teena Booth — fall short of as much as they achieve on this one, showing surprisingly little of the terrifying peer pressure that keeps the kids quiet and even less of the enabling their parents do (virtually all the parents actually encourage their kids not to cooperate with the police out of fear of what their kids’ involvement might do to their status in the small town), but the story is still powerful enough and Bob’s widow Katy McIntosh (Kim Raver) becomes such a strong revenge figure, first pushing the police to investigate and ride herd on the kids who refuse to talk, then filing a wrongful-death suit against 20 of them in hopes that will get one to crack, that the piece makes an impact regardless.

The ending takes a sharp and unusual turn as one of the kids, Ryan Aldridge (Charlie McDermott), drops out of school and runs away from home, spending his time in a trailer owned by a guy who provides him with both drink and drugs — though it turns out that two guys in his entourage are actually undercover officers (presumably out to arrest him on drug charges) and they get information out of Ryan that leads to his arrest. When the cops take Ryan in, Katy demands that she be allowed to meet with him in the police station and see if she can get him to talk where the cops have failed, and an initially reluctant lead detective, Paul Jackson (Greg Gundberg), at first says no (worried about the intervention of a civilian screwing up the case and making it legally impossible to prosecute the killer) but then agrees to give her half an hour — and by stressing the loss to her own children and the blow to their entire family, Katy cracks Ryan and he agrees to say “what really happened that night” as long as his own mother can be with him when he makes his statement. It turns out that Ryan actually killed Bob McIntosh — after the football guy knocked him down another boy at the party, Aaron (Jesse Moss), gave him a few more kicks when he was down and then Ryan, tired of having been bullied all day not only by Bob McIntosh but before that by two rich kids who’d harassed him earlier on the street and then had crashed the party, took out his frustrations on Bob, kicking him again and again until he died from the injuries.

The postlude explains that Aaron served a five-year sentence for manslaughter and Katy joined a program called “Restorative Justice,” which led not only to her forgiving Ryan for his crime but making joint appearances with him at high schools where the two of them warn students against the dangers of drunken partying. It wasn’t surprising, looking up the true story on the Internet, to find that the real events happened in 1997 in Squamish, British Columbia, Canada — an ironic reflection of Lifetime’s penchant for using Canadian locations to play cities and towns in the U.S.! — but I should have been able to guess because the whole attitude towards crime and rehabilitation expressed in this movie is definitely not American and it’s virtually impossible to imagine a program like “Restorative Justice” existing in any U.S. state. An contributor who reviewed this movie denounced its “same old liberal ending” and wrote, “It was just nauseating to me to see that after what she went through, she was all forgiving to this monster of a young man, who was so drunk, that he kicked her husband to death. Yes, it is true that he showed deep remorse, but he was in with the click [sic] who tried to prevent the truth from coming out.”

To same old liberal/Leftist me, that was actually the best part of the film — enough so that I would actually hope for a sequel showing how Katy got over her (understandable) anger and desire for revenge against her husband’s killers to her state of forgiveness and willingness to turn her personal tragedy into an opportunity to do some good — and what changes Ryan went through both in prison and after his release to be in a head space that would allow him to take such direct responsibility for his crime by appearing publicly with the wife of his victim.