Murder Between Friends,” a painterly-looking, based-on-fact made-for that clicks beautifully into place, has an ingredient many TV dramas leave out: Suspense. Those who don’t know how the real-life murder trail ends will be kept guessing, and those who do should stick around anyway. This accomplished work, from Gimbel-Adelson Prods. and Multimedia TV, is an engaging way to spend the night.
The story begins with good friends Kerry Meyers (Stephen Lang) and Bill Fontanille (Martin Kemp) having just beaten each other to bloody pulps in Meyers’ house. Sometime before, during or after the fight, Meyers’ wife, Janet, is murdered and his son seriously injured.
The case is seen by the police as an open-and-shut affair with Fontanille as the murderer. But assistant district attorney John Thorn (Timothy Busfield) starts unraveling a more complex story, and eventually prosecutes both in Janet’s death.
Skilled direction by Waris Hussein keeps performances relaxed and natural and the pace refreshingly unhurried. (The actual conflict, for example, isn’t established until almost a third of the way into the movie.) But Hussein also knows when to cut to the chase; the trial scenes are extremely concise, as are scenes that show progress of the investigation.
Credit, of course, should also go to a subtle and deceptively simple script by Philip Rosenberg, smooth editing by Paul Dixon and the producers.
Lang is outstanding as he moves from injured and freaked-out husband to eerily restrained father and witness. Kemp also does good work, managing to portray Fontanille as both easygoing and manic, and Busfield is admirably controlled in a role that could have turned into a young-lawyer-on-a-hot-case cliche. Also worth noting is Alex Courtney as defense attorney Rene Legallias, who oozes a snaky Southern charm.
The murder and trial take place in New Orleans, and the production successfully takes its cues from that city’s heat and all-pervasive music. Director of photography Robert Steadman uses an abundance of hot, rich primary colors that, during the day, are lit almost to resemble cartoons; at night, they’re kept mostly in shadow, except for when white light pinpoints action to create a stylized and effective chiaroscuro.
In addition, production designer Peter Wooley creates true-to-life environments, and Mark Snow’s music saturates the goings-on with a riveting beat. The only complaint: A paltry amount of New Orleans accents. What happened to the natives?