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Featured TV on DVD Review: The Trial

November 17th, 2010

The Trial - Buy from Amazon

The Trial is based on the 2001 Robert Whitlow novel of the same name. This was only his second novel, while his first, The List, was also turned into a a movie. That movie didn't wow critics, nor did it manage to find a large audience during its short theatrical release. The film struggled even more at the box office, but is it a better movie than these facts would suggest?

The Movie

Matthew Modine stars as Mac, a lawyer who was involved in a car accident that killed his wife and two sons. At the beginning of the movie, he is about to commit suicide, but he is interrupted by a call from Judge Danielson, who asks him to take over an important murder case after the public defender had to drop it due to a conflict of interest. At first he simply declines, saying he's retired, but the judge points out that he can compel him to take the case. With the case, he hires back Mindy, who was his assistant before he closed down his practice, and Ray, who was his P.I.

In the case, Pete Thompson is charged with straggling his girlfriend and making it look like a car accident. Pete says he's innocent, but can't remember what happened that night. Mac hires Dr. Anna Wilkes to check Pete out and see if the amnesia is real, and if so, what could be causing it and how they can overcome it. Not only is Dr. Anna Wilkes qualified to give Pete a thorough psychological exam, she also is experienced in helping people deal with the psychological trauma of the death of a loved one. The same psychological trauma that Mac is suffering from. You can probably tell how this is going to end up.

Robert Whitlow is known for writing legal thrillers with a Christian angle to them and this one is no different, as the character of Mac overcomes his survivor's guilt through the power of God. That's not a spoiler, as it is obvious from the first time God is mentioned in the movie. In fact, that's the biggest fault with this movie: predictability. As a courtroom drama is fails because we are not surprised any step of the way, and by the time the big twist is revealed, I had lost interest. There are some good performances in the movie, mostly by the supporting cast, but Matthew Modine comes across as disinterested. He was trying to portray a man who has basically given up on life, and if the overall movie was better, he likely would have succeeded. But in this movie, he just looks like he's going through the motions.

The Extras

The DVD has an audio commentary track with Robert Whitlow, Gary Wheeler, and Mark Freiburger, all three of which had multiple roles in the making of this movie. All three worked on the script, all three produced, while Robert Whitlow wrote the original novel and Gary Wheeler directed. This does mean they are able to give a lot of little details and if you liked the movie, it's worth listening to.

The Verdict

The Trial feels very much like a TV movie rather than a theatrical release. I have seen a few positive reviews online, but they are all from Christian movie critics, or movie critics from the area where it was shot, which leads me to believe that the film's appeal is limited to the Southern Christian demographic. If you are in that demographic, then the DVD is likely worth a rental. If you are not, then it is just as likely that you can give it a pass.

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