Picks and Pans Review: Cruel Doubt
This miniseries is based on Joe McGinniss' best-seller about the 1988 murder of North Carolina businessman Lieth Von Stein—a crime that also inspired CBS's highly rated TV movie Honor Thy Mother last month. The theme hasn't changed: maternal devotion, which will not allow Lieth's wife, Bonnie (Blythe Danner), to grasp that her college-age son, Chris (Matt McGrath), might have planned her murder and that of her second husband to gain an inheritance. (Bonnie barely survived the brutal attack that took her spouse.)
When we first see the boyish McGrath in loose sweats and a generic blue baseball cap, he looks like Beaver Cleaver. Neal McDonough and Travis Fine play Chris's North Carolina State campus friends, Dungeons and Dragons playmates and criminal accomplices. Miguel Ferrer and Adam Baldwin play the cops. William Forsythe, who usually plays B-movie bad guys, is interestingly cast against type as the new police chief who lights a fire under the stalled investigation.
The two-night format (conclusion airs Tuesday) gives the NBC version greater depth and detail than Honor Thy Mother, but the mini has the same flaw that made Cruel Doubt the least involving of McGinniss' three true-crime books. Both present a long halting march toward a trial that is a foregone conclusion. What holds the attention here is a top-notch performance by Danner as a generous-hearted woman wrestling with unthinkable thoughts.