Dennis Franz breaks out of “NYPD Blue” momentarily to play a New Orleans newspaper reporter who tosses away journalistic ethics to be an informant for the FBI and finds himself up a creek. A crackling mystery at times, at others a study in futility, “Caught in the Crossfire” involves bureaucratic bungling, odd motivations and a disappointing ending.
Franz plays real-life journalist Gus Payne, who stumbles across a murdered man. He pokes around the dead man’s connections and finds nothing until a frightened man sneaks him a likely lead to crooked politicians and an FBI agent.
The agent, played coolly and distinctly by Anna Gunn, contacts him and asks him to look into a sinister connection between a local cokehead real-estate broker and a commissioner who’s been on the take long enough to become accustomed to the good life.
The script hands viewers an inside glimpse of a confab between the paunchy, white-suited politico and the jittery broker, who doesn’t want to give the commissioner a bribe.
Franz doggedly pursues his fuzzy way until he bumps into a jam he can’t explain — no one will listen but his patient wife (Alley Mills) — and she alone can’t keep him from being arrested.
The O’Hara/Horowitz Prods. vidpic, produced by S. Bryan Hickox, looks smart and director Chuck Bowman kicks up considerable suspenseful moments.
Franz cunningly limns a put-upon, trusting man trying to follow his own code of patriotism. Richard K. Olsen’s Southern commissioner plays like a Faulkner/Williams rental, but Ray McKinnon’s broker is shot through with credibility.
Conor O’Farrell does a good impresh of a columnist, Michael Genevie is maddeningly assured as the local FBI head, and Theresa O’Shea puts in a good bit as a fingerprinter. Mills as the wife is agreeable, and Gunn gives an interesting interp of the mysterious FBI rep.
Vincent Baldino’s camerawork is sterling, and Caroline Biggerstaff’s editing is superior. Natalie Wilson’s production design is solid, ably substituting South Carolina for New Orleans and including an old-fashioned working pressroom that smacks of authenticity. Mark Snow’s score is appropriate.