STUDIO: Sony Pictures
RUNNING TIME: 89 minutes
- Discovering the Truth: The Making of The Wronged Man
Julia Ormond stars as Hilary Swank in the feature-length television adaptation of The Trailer for Conviction.
Julia Ormond, Mahershalalhashbaz Ali, Lisa Arrindell Anderson, Bruce McKinnon, Omar J. Dorsey. Directed by Tom McLoughlin
Julia Ormond is Janet Gregory, a paralegal who spent over 20 years working to free Calvin Willis, (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali, to be known heretofore as Unpronounceable Jones) whom she believes to be wrongfully incarcerated for a crime he didn’t commit. Willis is the titular wronged man. Orson Welles is the titular third man. (Spoilers!) Kadeem Hardison is the titular sixth man. (Why have I seen that movie?) Robin Starveling is the man i’ th’ moon. (Shakespearean reference!) The Wronged Man is based on a true story. It is also a Lifetime Original Movie.
Tyler Perry’s “urban” prequels to literary classics were both critical and commercial failures. He immediately shelved Catch-18, Fahrenheit 348 and Slaughterhouse 1.
The first lines of dialogue of The Wronged Man come from a phone operator to Janet Gregory, Paralegal Supreme: “I have a collect call from Wade Bell the death row inmate at the Louisiana State Correctional facility. Do you accept the charges?” What more does one need for understanding the plot? DO YOU ACCEPT THE CHARGES, JULIA ORMOND? NO! No, she does not. What more doth thee require? ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED? Oh, wait. You’re not entertained? I’m sorry . . . Why not? Oh, because the fact she doesn’t accept the charges means you’ll now have to slog through 90 minutes of tedious emotion? Sorry.
I also should mention that Julia Ormond actually accepts the charges from the phone call. It’s the charges of child rape against Calvin Willis she does not accept. I wouldn’t want to mislead you into thinking there’s a scene where Ormond hangs up on a death row inmate’s last phone call. That would have been awesome. That would have ended the film quickly. But her not accepting the charges of child rape means you have 88 minutes until (SPOILER ALERT!) Willis is freed from prison. That’s the basic plot. I won’t bother you with more. If you don’t get it by now, I don’t know how else I could explain it. Maybe a picture diagram of a sad black man behind bars and a sad white woman with an armful of legal documents would help:
Here’s that diagram!
Seriously, Julia Ormond + Files could be a drinking game for this film.
These 88 minutes aren’t out-and-out terrible. They’re just 88 minutes of bland pablum. It would be easier to stomach if we had characters we could watch, enjoy, root for and connect with. But we don’t. Instead we get archetypes that are so thinly drawn I hesitate to even call them archetypes. They’re stock characters that we should understand because we’re aware of what their types represent. We have the strong single mother (She “outranks any paralegal in town” and there are “none as smart and cheap.”) the wronged minority, the longsuffering wife, the sassy black grandmother, (complete with Sunday-Southern-Baptist-church-goin’ dialect!) and the jaded son bitter that mommy has to work so hard to free a wrongfully convicted black man. (Selfish prick) If any of these characters actually DID something it may be interesting, but for the most part they do not, so it isn’t.
This creates one of the biggest problems with the film. There is hardly any action: No one actually DOES much of anything. The characters for the most part sit around and talk about things they’ve done, thing’s they’re currently doing or things they are going to do. They just describe the action the film could have SHOWN and emote about them. David Mamet would hate this film. So instead of actually seeing Janet Gregory fighting the legal system for 22 years, we hear her describe herself fighting the legal system for 22 years and then cry about it. In one scene Willis asks Gregory how she was able to get an important paper signed. She describes how. They laugh. Why not just show the struggle to get it signed? Oh yes, because it would eliminate the moment of emotional catharsis where they both laugh and Willis says, “I ain’t laughed in a long time.” The film is full of scenes where people simply emote things, and it’s tedious. Emotion alone does not good drama make, and The Wronged Man strives to be an emotional film. I’m assuming this is a hallmark of Lifetime Original Movies.
. . . For raptors.
Within the first fifteen minutes there is a death row execution, characters in prison and two major deaths. This allows for much overwrought emotion. The characters hit emotional beat after emotional beat, and it just meanders around exploring those emotions. The film spans 22 years, and it’s difficult to make a film covering such an expansive amount of time and avoid feeling episodic. Sadly, the focus on emotion over action further disjoints the entire film emphasizing its episodic nature. The film remains unsatisfying even though the acting is quite good at times and the story has compelling elements. The acting really does have good moments. Ormond has a few quiet moments in which she’s able to shine, and Unpronounceable Jones is fine enough as Calvin Willis. They do well pulling connections from a script that gives them nothing more than “Cry. Feel sad.” For that their performances are laudable.
You know what would be more interesting than this story? The story of Calvin Willis transitioning from 22 years in prison back into normal life. That’s a struggle I would be interested in. I may have been interested in this struggle if I had actually seen anything representing struggle onscreen. Instead I heard about it.
Here’s today’s Graboid! Guess the film! Wait, this is definitely from the film I’m reviewing. Where’s the phone? Someone call David, ask him if I’m doing this right. Am I doing this right? Did I give the Graboid away by including it in the DVD review? I’m still getting used to this Graboid game. DAVID? ANSWER THE PHONE!
The Wronged Man on DVD features a short documentary that is more standard than standard circle jerking about the film production. It only lasts a few minutes, though, and then you’re on to the next special feature: Previews. Yup. Previews. You’ve got previews for Drop Dead Diva and Damages. You’ve got previews for Breaking Bad, Pillars of the Earth, and a movie that Tyler Perry is probably involved with somehow. There’s also a preview for By the People: The Election of Barack Obama, and that’s where I felt the most emotion during the entire night: Residuals of watching the election results announced in Hyde Park.
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