Plot: Erik (Myko Olivier) has endured sexual abuse for decades, with his own father as his abuser, no less. Even as he prepares for college, the abuse continues and while he is desperate to seek help, his father Jose (Benito Martinez) threatens him severely should he even consider speaking out. Meanwhile, his mother Kitty (Courtney Love) is aware of the abuse, but doesn’t seem willing to help, perhaps because she too lives in fear of Jose’s retribution. When he admits to his brother Lyle (Nico Tortorella) the abuse hasn’t stopped, it sparks a plan to put an end to Jose’s reign of terror for good, keeping both of the brothers safe from his reach. The two storm in one night with shotguns and shoot both of their parents to death, then concoct an intruder story to shed suspicion, though of course, the alibis don’t hold up forever.
Entertainment Value: This is of course based on the real life events around Erik and Lyle Menendez, a true crime story that was national news for years and remains a high profile case. As you can imagine, by the time this movie was released, there wasn’t any new information and that means no surprises, but Lifetime does take some interesting paths here. The narrative unfolds from mostly Erik’s perspective and details the abuse he suffered at the hands of his father, as well as the ways he tried to cope and even grapple with his mother’s lack of intervention. The movie even has his mother appear to him after her death, trying to make sense of her actions, as Erik struggles to accept her role in his trauma. The tone is serious and even dark, but there is also a good deal of melodrama and Lifetime presents a lot of scenes in almost soap opera style, so it is an odd, sometimes even campy approach. The deadly serious story combined with the soap opera melodrama is likely to put some viewers off, while others will be entertained, so it is a coin flip, I think. I did appreciate the perspective, as it takes a more human slant to the story, but it does play up the melodrama, sex, and violence, including the actual murder scene, which is quite graphic by Lifetime standards. If you’re interested in the case, I think this is worth a look.
The performances here are fine by Lifetime’s watermark, but the dialed up efforts do seem a little odd for a serious, true crime picture. I suppose you have to more or less expect that though, as Lifetime is known for melodrama and to be fair, this is often the case even in their biopic releases. Although there is some campiness to some of the scenes, the performances aren’t as over the top as some of Lifetime’s thrillers, just more tuned up than the material requires. The casting of Courtney Love was an interesting choice, but she has proven she has acting chops and in truth, her effort is the most restrained and solid of the ensemble. Her role is a supporting one, but she does well and provides a grounded anchor in the scenes she appears in. Benito Martinez is also good, though he plays up the role a little, barking at the brothers and having massive emotional outbursts. I suppose the real life Jose might have been that way however, so perhaps it is an accurate portrayal. The cast also includes Myko Olivier, Meredith Scott Lynn, and Nico Tortorella.
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