"You're a walking tabloid headline. You got no right to be here."—Steve Carroll (Robert Forster)
1975: Greenwich, Connecticut, is a wealthy, insular community. Home to the Kennedys and their circle, the town is suspicious of outsiders and protective of its own, even when they cross the law. On Hacker Night, the eve of Halloween, Martha Moxley was discovered face down in a pool of blood and autumn leaves, a broken golf club near her crushed head.
1997: Mark Fuhrman (Christopher Meloni) arrives in Greenwich at the request of his publisher (actually, Dominick Dunne, who already wrote a fictionalized account of the murder, A Season in Purgatory) to write a book about the Moxley case. Whispers and red tape slow him down. Incompetent cops, uncooperative witnesses, and lost evidence block his way. But he is a crusading avenger who intends to prove that the rich cannot manipulate the justice system, and that pretty blond murder victims can get justice even when those damn L.A. county prosecutors -
Oh, sorry wrong case.
And that is the very problem at the core of Murder in Greenwich, a television movie based on Mark Fuhrman's book about the Martha Moxley murder. While his book itself (near as I can tell) pretty much sets out the case in straightforward fashion, the teleplay by Dave Erickson draws out the book's subtext to cast Fuhrman as the hero of the piece, an erstwhile detective who is not really a "genocidal racist," as he puts it (in spite of being caught on tape saying things that would make a Klan member blush and then lying under oath about it) but a working class crusader against the privileged. Of course, in real life, Fuhrman's book came out at the same time as another book (albeit by a less notorious author) that arrived at the same investigative conclusion. Still, Fuhrman is the clear focus here. Every time Fuhrman berates the local cops for failing to solve the case, we hear his frustration at the L.A. county district attorney's office. Every time his foul mouth lets out a stream of insults, we hear lurking in the background that terrible word (or should I say, the 41 times he said it) that cost him his credibility on the witness stand. Every time Martha Moxley (Maggie Grace) narrates her own story from beyond the grave, we think of Nicole Simpson speaking through her.
The post-mortem narration is an awfully sentimental device, meant to draw our attention away from Fuhrman and back to the Moxley case, telling us what happened through Martha's eyes. But it is clunky and ineffective. Martha comes across as a helpless ugly duckling type. Gawky, her mouth filled with braces, and shy, she awakens through love to become a fashion model almost overnight. But her life of beauty and privilege is, as they say in turgid true crime movies like this, tragically cut short. The suspects are stock characters. Bad boy Rob Mathers, the outsider first blamed for the crime. Bad boy Morris Banks, who, well um, we do not really learn much about him. And bad boys (are you sensing a pattern here?) Tommy and Michael Skakel, nephews of the Kennedy clan, toward whom Fuhrman immediately sets his sights.
Martha's account of the murder is really a distraction from the true interest of the script: Fuhrman as the former heroic cop and family man tortured by personal demons and longing for vindication. The Moxley case then all becomes a way to replay O.J. with a nice coat of whitewash. Director Tom McLoughlin, relegated to the world of television movies after killing off Arnold Horshack at the beginning of Friday the 13th Part VI, moves the camera around like he needs to get somewhere fast, like maybe the set of C.S.I.. But all the whip pans, focus pulls, and dissolves amount to very little when pinned to the sentimental narration and the self-serving detective tale. Worse, this Columbia DVD has one of the worst transfers I have ever seen for a new movie. The image is grainy and soft, like a second-generation VHS dupe.
Christopher Meloni gives Fuhrman the requisite amount of righteous indignation, in spite of the fact that characters keep reminding him that his primary reason for coming to Greenwich was to write a profitable bestseller. Oh, no—this is about justice! Fuhrman becomes the heroic outsider fighting the wealthy establishment, showing that brains and courage can beat money and power. This time, O.J.'s people (and of course, we mean rich people, because Fuhrman is no racist, no siree) will not get away with it.
I suppose if this were just another true crime movie, we could just ignore all the hard boiled detective clichés and appreciate it for what it is: a genuine tragedy turned into a sordid television time-filler. But the problem here is Mark Fuhrman. He cannot escape his own story overshadowing everything that happened to that poor girl. Ultimately, Murder in Greenwich is not about Martha Moxley or the Skakel brothers. It is about Mark Fuhrman trying to get justice…for Mark Fuhrman.
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