Judge Dawn Hunt was at risk of turning off the television during this entire movie.
"I'm a lot of things, Kemosabe."
It's not that it's a bad movie, per se; it just has a lot of things wrong with it.
Facts of the Case
Cold cases can be a bitch, or at least feature one. That's the thought running through Detective Win Garano's (Daniel Sunjata, Rescue Me) head when D.A. Monique "Money" Lamont (Andie MacDowell, Groundhog Day) sends him to solve a decades-old murder. Reluctantly following orders, he embarks on a journey from Knoxville back to Boston.
Patricia Cornwell is the international best-selling writer of over 25 books. At Risk was originally a serialized novella published in 2006. Lifetime Television Network picked up the rights to both this and its sequel, The Front.
I looked at the book reviews on Amazon.com and I was surprised to find they were lukewarm at best. Clearly this isn't Cornwell's most beloved creation. That didn't leave me much hope for the movie, and sadly I was in fact disappointed.
The biggest problem with At Risk is that it felt like the pilot for a television series. The opening credits were even produced in such a manner as to emulate a crime drama like Law and Order or one of the CSIs.
The next problem is that Detective Delma Sykes (Annabeth Gish, The X-Files) was basically in her own movie. She only had a handful of scenes with people. The plot hinges on solving a cold case, which Gish does entirely on her own, effectively invalidating Daniel Sunjata's role.
Problem number three is that Andie MacDowell's character is too sympathetic. Her arc through the movie consists of going from a manipulative D.A. with her sights set on the governor's seat, to the victim of a brutal crime who must then do campaign damage control for the rest of the movie. MacDowell has an inherent likability factor which plays against her. It's too difficult to see her as anything but uncomfortable, as she never fully commits to her character's pivotal scenes. Most notable is her under-acting during the assault scene which informs the rest of her time in the movie and thus everything that follows rings false.
The fourth problem is that Daniel Sunjata's character, Win Garano, is amazingly arrogant and completely unaware of this fact. This hurts the movie because the payoff at the end is entirely reliant on Gish's and Sunjata's characters having a well-established emotional connection. But putting aside that they are in less than a handful of scenes together, their characters are coming from two entirely different places, thus as the film draws to a close it feels disingenuous.
The last problem with At Risk is randomness. There are things which I cannot explain. One is a flashback featuring Diahann Carroll (Grey's Anatomy). She plays Win's Nana with just enough eccentricity to keep her grounded, but during her flashback nothing happens that impacts the movie in any way. Nothing!
I want to applaud the film for making the choice to feature flashbacks which are hyper saturated and stylized to feel as though they're coming out of Sin City. But instead of creating a sense of heightened horror at the gruesomeness, all those scenes feel both disjointed and detached. Not to mention there are flashbacks which don't employ this method and the obvious inconsistency doesn't help the film in any way.
The last two examples of things that don't belong in At Risk are both characters. I have no explanation for either of these two. The first is Ashley Williams' character Stump. She's only in a few scenes, and in one of them her sole purpose is to hold up the wall while Win walks past, completely ignoring her. The second character is Cal Tradd (Dane DeHaan, In Treatment) whose purpose for being in the film is possibly to be a stalker. He's presented as some kind of underage reporter who looks like he skipped PE in order to attend the press conferences. His appearances in the film are the definition of random.
Combining all of those characters' scenes and handing them off to Gish would have not only saved the filmmakers money, it would have given Sunjata and Gish the extra scenes together they so desperately needed. Everything wrong with the film had a solution which, if employed, would have made it a pretty good movie.
I had some problems with the audio, specifically with the mixing. It was obvious, especially during outdoor scenes, the dialogue was recorded separately thus it lacked the organic feel the scenes needed. Also at times the levels dropped off. The video ,however, is high quality. There were no extras included.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
At Risk would have worked better as a series than a made-for-TV movie. There was simply not enough time to flesh out what I suspect were interesting characters at heart.
Only diehard fans of Patricia Cornwell or extreme devotees of the Lifetime Movie Network are likely to invest in this.
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