Acorn Media // 2006 // 408 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Harold Gervais (Retired) // September 2nd, 2010
The UK riff on Law and Order.
The above could also read More Law With Some Order but that would be pedantic. Trial & Retribution is the latest entry from the factory of police procedural series overseen by Prime Suspect creator Lynda LaPlante. For this, LaPlante scrubs away some of the grit and grime which helped define the award-winning Helen Mirren series and replaces it with a slicker product featuring a younger & more attractive if less talented cast, a quicker editing style and 24-esque split screen storytelling method.
Volume XII: "Paradise Lost"
A black man is out raping and murdering the white girlfriends of other black men.
Volume XIII: "Curriculum Vitae"
Infants are turning up dead and the common link is a live-in babysitter who isn't who she claims to be.
Volume XIV: "Mirror Image"
A police commander and his wealthy magistrate wife are robbed and brutally murdered and the chief suspects are their twin sons. Are both involved or is one protecting the other and can the police tell which?
One thing I have found with the mystery genre is that it isn't such a good sign when within 5 to 10 minutes the way the thing is going to turn out is pretty clearly telegraphed to the viewer. When twists and turns that are supposed to be unexpected or shocking instead prompt sighs of boredom, yeah, not such a good sign either. Yet that is pretty much the sum total of my reaction to Trial & Retribution: Set 4. All 408 minutes of it. In fact I would go as far to say the only people liable to be confused or wondering whodunnit will be those people that have never watched TV, seen a movie or read a book. When the title of a mystery, in this case the third, "Mirror Image," tells a person pretty much everything they need to know about the set-up and eventual resolution of a mystery, it's kind of a problem. Another fault of the series is the way the writer's short stick the trial part of the mysteries. If the average volume runs about three hours, the courtroom sequences only account for about 30 or 40 minutes of the running time. Thus they come off as perfunctory and sloppy. It's an odd choice for a show that bills itself as part courtroom drama in, you know, the title of the series.
So okay, not so good on the plotting and writing end, but good acting can very often elevate sloppy or trite writing, right? Yes, good acting can elevate some material but again we are talking about Trial & Retribution. I don't mean to sound glib, but if the writing is cliche ridden then the acting comes off as lazy and obvious. David Hayman has been with the series since its premiere in 1997 and as DCS Mike Walker he serves as the show's wise old man authority figure type, but instead of wise he comes off as just plain creepy. Constantly smoking and leering at the younger female cast members & guest stars, his work is really off-putting. Victoria Smurfit also stars as DCI Róisín Connor, within the context of the show she serves as it's younger, hotter version of Prime Suspect's Jane Tennison. Smurfit certainly wears the pantsuits well but oh that she possessed a fraction of Mirren's talent. Smurfit poses more than she acts and seems to only have three facial expressions, none of which come off as especially convincing. Granted the writing does no one in the show any favors but Smurfit is unable to bring any subtext or inner turmoil to the role. The end result is Smurfit's DCI Connor ends up coming off as a cipher and when a show asks its audience to commit several hours to it, that is again a serious problem to have, especially when we are talking about its lead character. Still, for as limited as Smurfit is co-star Vince Leigh fares even worse as DS Sam Palmer. If Smurfit's face is outfitted with three expressions, Leigh's only has one setting and it generally looks like it involves sucking on a lemon. The only regular cast member who comes off as anything close to an actual human being is another original cast member, Dorian Lough as DS "Satch" Satchell. Performances are very often defined by what the actor lets go unspoken and Lough would seem to understand that. If the show were more about his character and less about Smurfit's or Hayman's, Trial & Retribution might be a whole lot more watchable.
On the plus side, production values are generally strong. The show looks good and the direction is fast-paced enough that there are stretches of moments where I forgot what I was watching was totally without originality or creative spark.
On the technical side Acorn Media offers up a strong package. The image is 1.78:1 and is anamorphically enhanced. Colors are solid and well saturated. Detail is strong and I saw minimal examples of edge enhancement. I did notice what appeared to be a few instances of interlacing but they were not frequent and should not hold anyone back from purchasing if you absolutely have to have this title in your collection. The sound is a Dolby Digital English 2.0 audio track and the stereo mix offers up dialogue in a clear fashion with no hiss or other distortions. There are English subtitles and features are limited to cast filmographies and a bio of creator Lynda LaPlante.
I'm generally a strong proponent of British telly, as I believe the model of shorter episode runs and a more relaxed attitude in what can be presented usually adds up to compelling and more effective television. There are any number of series I can point to in order to support this belief. Sad to say but Trial &anp; Retribution stands in the other column as an example of UK television being just as empty headed & plodding as American television. I suppose it's also worth noting now that Great Britain has their own version of Law and Order, they really don't need something that tries and fails to be a European equivalent.
I put on the same kind of funny wig that people in the British judicial
system wear and pronounce this title guilty of being slick but strictly
by-the-numbers and obvious in the extreme.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 408 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated