Filmed as the actual series of events was winding to its conclusion, “Ambush in Waco” examines the standoff between Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms agents and cult leader David Koresh. Film’s an engrossing affair, with no signs of hasty production.
Telepic, sixth under “In the Line of Duty” banner, stars Tim Daly as smooth-talking renegade Seventh-Day Adventist Vernon Howell, who takes over Waco-based Branch Davidian religious community.
Story picks up with Howell (yet to start calling himself David Koresh) firmly in command, and ends with first ATF assault on the group’s compound, Mount Carmel, and hint of subsequent standoff.
Phil Penningroth’s script follows two young Branch Davidians, Adrian (William O’Leary) and Jason (Neal McDonough). Both enter the cult enthusiastically, believing that Howell is divinely inspired; before the show’s over, one of them has left the compound and given incriminating testimony to the Feds.
Second storyline plots ATF campaign against Koresh, who’s suspected of piling up illegal weapons and, later, of child abuse.
Included are a lot of fascinating (and presumably true) reflections of life at the compound, with its high-tech computers, shooting range and strict dietary laws, lack of heat or air conditioning (except in Howell/Koresh apartment), and Koresh’s interesting method of appropriating bed partners.
Acting throughout is top-notch, with Daly virtually unrecognizable as the guy from “Wings,” and Dan Lauria turning in a strong performance as a beefy bulldog cop.
Director Dick Lowry and crew turn in a commendable job and production designer Guy Barnes has worked up a convincing Mount Carmel in Oklahoma.
Picture stands as self-contained, but a sequel detailing the ATF-FBI/Branch Davidian standoff could certainly pack an equal amount of drama.