Review: ‘Cries Unheard: The Donna Yaklich Story’

An ugly, gross tale of wife abuse and murder, toplining Jaclyn Smith, arguably represents the nadir of the domestic-violence genre.

An ugly, gross tale of wife abuse and murder, toplining Jaclyn Smith, arguably represents the nadir of the domestic-violence genre.

Battered women who harbor desires to kill their husbands will naturally be glued to their sets. So might unredeemable husbands pondering the wages of spousal brutality. But for all its social relevance to a strata of family dysfunction, this story of small-town, true-life Colorado couple is a wretched experience, despairingly told.

After years of unrelenting fear for her life, a pummeled, beleaguered wife (Smith) hires two local thugs to murder her savage, intimidating, steroid-addicted policeman husband (Brad Johnson).

Christopher Canaan’s script is aptly framed through a series of flashbacks as Smith, speaking from jail, chronicles the tragic events leading to her conspiracy to commit murder. The target of her candor is her now-18-year-old son (the convincingly angry, confused David Lascher) whom she seeks to enlighten about the shocking truth behind her emotional paralysis and his terrorist father.

First problem is credibility. The Smith-Johnson portrayal of the Yaklich courtship is flatly unbelievable; Smith appears much too chic and socially at opposite ends to fall for a greaseball like Johnson’s weightlifter.

The vidpic’s second big problem is that, once ensconsed as his marital slave and punching bag, it’s not made clear why the wife is too afraid to run away but not too afraid to conspire to kill him.

Viewer impatience with Smith’s mind-numbingly foolish homemaker is almost as great as the repulsion for Johnson’s hulking, gun-happy husband. In short, without a sympathetic, let alone empathetic wife figure, director Armand Mastroianni can’t overcome a grueling, almost counterproductive picture.

Cries Unheard: The Donna Yaklich Story

(Tues. (1), 9-11 p.m., CBS)


Filmed in L.A. by Carla Singer Prods. Exec producers, Carla Singer, Felice Gordon; co-producers, Arnie Grossman, Christopher Canaan; producer, Joan Carson; director, Armand Mastroianni; writer, Canaan.


Camera, Paul Onorato; editor, Robert Florio; production design, Patricia Van Ryker; sound, Reinhard Stergar; music, Harry Manfredini.


Cast: Jaclyn Smith, Brad Johnson, Hilary Swank, David Lascher, Carolyn McCormick, Andrew Lawrence, Ramsey Midwood, Jason Kristofer, David Gianopoulos, David Byron, Lisa Robin Kelly, Gary Hudson, Rosanna Huffman, David Cromwell, Tom Nibley, Malissa Feruzzi, Nomi Mitty, Aixa Clemente, Ron Frazier, Richard Ryder, Warren Munson, Stuart Nisbet.
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