‘Just’ a Lifetime movie in the eyes of many – but nearly twenty-five years after its first broadcast, Dave believes Tommy Lee Wallace’s drama has lost none of its relevance.
During the trial that opens FINAL JUSTICE, there’s propensity, however brief, and irrespective of your own sexuality, to watch the repulsively homophobic witness interrogation by defence lawyer Merle Hammond (Michael McKean) and scoff at such dramatic hyperbole. Because, yeah – it’s a Lifetime Channel movie.
But then you remember the existence of the Westboro Baptist Church, the Family Research Council, and, even in the less evangelical surroundings of the U.K., articles from the likes of Jan Moir. After all, it was only a decade or so ago when, within the putrid pages of the Daily Mail, Moir stated that the death of gay boyband member Stephen Gately signalled “the ooze of a very different and more dangerous lifestyle, seeping out for all to see”.
It’s this angle that Hammond chooses to take in director Tommy Lee Wallace’s gripping drama. Hammond is tasked with defending the indefensible: a nailed-on murder suspect in the form of Damon (Kevin Loomis), who killed his business partner, George (Duffy Epstein) – who happens to be gay – while he was in the act of torching their business so he could bag the insurance money. It seems a watertight case – certainly in the eyes of George’s grieving sister, Gwen (Annette O’Toole).
Hammond’s fee, though, is coming from ‘The Coalition for the Preservation of American Families’, and he’s wily enough to know exactly how to twist the case in his favour. By using the word ‘homosexual’ seventeen times in the court’s opening session, and by relentlessly questioning George’s morality with passive-aggressive observations (“He was pierced? In his left breast nipple? For the purpose of jewellery, you say?”), he knows how to con a gullible jury. To everyone else’s horror, the case ends with the defendant acquitted – but for Gwen it’s far from over, and out of sheer desperation she decides to kidnap Hammond and deliver her own brand of justice.
In his tenth and final small screen feature, Wallace initially runs the risk early of popping Final Justice‘s cork a little too quickly. The actual trial is impossible to top in terms of a spectacle, so to then have the middle third of the picture playing out as a dialogue-driven two-hander is quite the gamble. Thankfully, its success can be put down to two factors. Firstly, the soon-to-be-married-in-real-life couple of O’Toole and McKean are a piece of casting genius, with the latter in-particular managing to do repugnant slimeball with a massive level of effectiveness. Secondly, the script from Babs Greyhosky is dynamite. One of the first women to break through the glass ceiling of the male dominated writers’ rooms in episodic TV, the veteran screenwriter has crafted an impressive drama that’s chock-full of moral ambiguities. Fiction it may be, but Final Justice‘s foundation lies in a depressingly timeless bigotry that shows precious little sign of abating.
USA ● 1998 ● Drama, TVM ● 92mins
Annette O’Toole, Michael McKean, Brian Wimmer, CCH Pounder ● Dir. Tommy Lee Wallace ● Wri. Babs Greyhosky