Well-meaning telepic dramatizes the ways in which women relinquish their lives to manipulative men, but itself falls victim to the conventions of the form. Effective if formulaic, “The Unspoken Truth” fits an important topic into a lurid story, ties up the package and pulls the strings.
“He loves me,” a young woman in prison garb (Lea Thompson) tells an unseen interviewer at pic’s outset. Moments later she says, “I should’ve killed him.”
Pic jumps back 15 months to the events that led to Brianne Hawkins’ life sentence. We know right off the bat that her husband, Clay (James Marshall), is bad news: While she attends church with her father, sisters and daughter, Clay sits outside in the pickup. He wears a black leather jacket. And lest any questions remain as to his unsavoriness, we learn that Clay’s idea of “painting the town red” with his wife is a night at a honky-tonk called the Broken Spoke; trouble can’t be far behind.
There, one beer-fueled buckaroo (Jed Reghanti) flirts brazenly with Bree, angers Clay and then humiliates him, and winds up on the wrong side of Clay’s gun, with Bree in the middle.
Clay convinces his wife that she was crucially involved in the fatal parking-lot scuffle. The brainwashed young woman seals her own fate by testifying before the grand jury to Clay’s version of the “truth.” Husband-and-wife murder charges follow.
Among the Clearys, Bree’s Irish-American family, older sister Margaret (Patricia Kalember) shows special concern for Bree — sometimes to the point of meddling — and particular contempt for her “thug” of a husband.
Margaret’s also harboring a long-standing conflict with Da and two of her sisters over a family secret. The bombshell lands rather softly, but from here on the melodrama’s heightened.
Pic’s prison segs often lapse into the mawkish. The characters of the gruff-but-good-hearted guard (Gil Glasgow), simpatico warden (Sharon Shawnessey) and birthday-party-attending shrink (Barbara Britt) all strain credibility.
Principal actors do well, finding subtleties in J.A. Mitty’s largely unsubtle script. Thompson is appropriately girlish as the submissive wife; her quiet, resolute “no” to Clay across a prison visiting-room table registers as a believable turning point.
Kalember fits the bill as the stoic truth-seeker who stirs things up, and Marshall’s needy, menacing Clay comes across with apt repulsiveness as the overgrown, swaggering boy he is.
Dick O’Neill is the crusty Cleary patriarch, and his breakdown at the news of Bree’s murder charge is heart-wrenching. Young Karis Paige Bryant captures the apprehensiveness of a child caught in the dark drama of family lies and violence.
In an unexpected turn, Robert Englund is a supportive suburban guy as Margaret’s husband, Ernie. As with all the supporting thesps, he’s given little to work with.
Martin Nicholson’s editing speeds along the action. Mark Snow’s versatile score works well sometimes but is intrusive in its jazz-inflected passages. Austin locations provide an attractive backdrop for a nameless Texas town.
Telepic, “inspired by a true story,” has a happy ending that strikes the right emotional chords. While director Peter Werner doesn’t penetrate far beneath the surface, he and d.p. Neil Roach visually convey the tensions and indelible ties of families in which the code of conduct is, “We all did what he said.”