Picks and Pans Review: Judgment Day:
The Ellie Nesler Story
USA (Wed., June 23, 9 p.m. ET)
Nesler was the Sonora, Calif., mother of two who in 1993 entered a local courtroom and shot to death Daniel Driver, an ex-church worker and camp counselor accused of sodomizing Nesler's 7-year-old son Brandon. Was it vigilante justice (as the prosecutor at Nesler's subsequent murder trial maintained) or temporary insanity (as Nesler's lawyer argued)? This TV movie would have you believe justifiable homicide, since Driver (Canadian actor Robert Bockstael) comes across as a smirking, Bible-spouting snake and Nesler (Christine Lahti, one of Chicago Hope's recently discharged doctors) as a loving, anguished mom who's convinced that her son's rapist will beat the rap. Writer-director Stephen Tolkin (Mr. Murder, Intensity) pushes so many emotional buttons so relentlessly, your brain will feel bruised. But outweighing the manipulative tone is the sheer grimness of the story. At one point a suicidal Brandon (remarkably played by Andrew Ducote) puts a revolver to his chest. Given the current controversy over kids, guns and the media, that scene probably should have been yanked. Although Brandon's sexual abuse is never actually depicted, the sense of menace conveyed by his leering predator is palpable, and the courtroom testimony of another boy allegedly molested by Driver is astonishingly graphic for mainstream TV—even more so than the dialogue heard on a recent NYPD Blue episode that dealt with a similar theme. So parents be warned: This well-acted exploration of pedophilia veers dangerously close to exploitation.
Bottom Line: Disturbing tale of disorder in the court
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