Review: ‘Brotherhood of Murder’

Writer Robert J. Avrech's screenplay, based loosely on the book "Brotherhood of Murder" by Thomas Martinez and John Guinther, doesn't indict the white supremacy movement as much as it portrays one man, Bob Mathews (Peter Gallagher), the rogue cult leader who orchestrated the murder of outspoken radio host Alan Berg. Director Martin Bell fails to provide a complete portrait of what could have been the fascinating story of one man's seduction into a powerful gang.

Writer Robert J. Avrech’s screenplay, based loosely on the book “Brotherhood of Murder” by Thomas Martinez and John Guinther, doesn’t indict the white supremacy movement as much as it portrays one man, Bob Mathews (Peter Gallagher), the rogue cult leader who orchestrated the murder of outspoken radio host Alan Berg. Director Martin Bell fails to provide a complete portrait of what could have been the fascinating story of one man’s seduction into a powerful gang — a concept deftly explored in “American History X.” Perhaps to compensate, Showtime is pairing this original movie with the documentary “Brotherhood of Hate” from New York Times Television.

William Baldwin stars in this true story of Tom Martinez, an army dropout who returns home to Philadelphia and his pregnant wife (Kelly Lynch), only to find work scarce. After he loses a job at a bakery and some black kids taunt him while he’s working as a janitor, Tom starts to believe he’s getting a raw deal.

But Tom doesn’t seem so much desperate as just irritated. He doesn’t even begin to explore all of his options before he’s taken in by some guy at a bar who starts talking about the bum rap given the white man. Next thing you know, Tom’s attending a meeting of the Order, an Aryan supremacy group.

The way Avrech tells it, Tom’s not just drawn into the Order, he practically volunteers, and is soon taken under the wing of Bob Mathews, a nutcase even by white supremacist standards. Bob bankrolls the Order by robbing videostores and armored cars.

In one vidstore robbery, he chides the cashier for selling X-rated movies with multiracial casts but is later seen watching one in private. Apparently, we’re supposed to be surprised to find out that this gun-toting neo-Nazi is also a hypocrite.

And Bob gets worse. He orchestrates the murder of Berg, and convinces a fellow follower that it’s God’s will that he impregnate her 13-year-old daughter. The last straw for Tom, however, is when “lovable” racist Walter, the guy who initially recruited him, is killed as a traitor.

The book “Brotherhood of Murder” is acclaimed for effectively illustrating the moral dilemma Tom eventually faces, but here, the only motivation offered for Tom’s behavior is cash, pure and simple, albeit under the guise of a better life for his wife and daughter. And when Tom is apprehended by the FBI for passing some of the Order’s counterfeit bills, director Bell makes us believe that he helps brings down his buddies because he has to, not because he knows it is right.

Baldwin’s performance also sends mixed signals, seemingly more concerned with playing Tom as sympathetic instead of believable. It would have been interesting to see what Baldwin could have done in the role of Bob, using his wry smile and natural charisma to win over new converts. Instead it’s Gallagher doing his interpretation of an evil Mr. Rogers.

Lynch, meanwhile, doesn’t have much to do except stand around looking pathetic. Her listless performance is worsened by an emotionless voice-over that provides little, if any, insight into her character.

Film’s true impact comes far too late when, in the final moments of the pic, we get a “where are they now” update. After Bob died in a gun battle with the FBI, his wife Debbie hooked up with Buford O. Furrow Jr., the man who shot up a Jewish community center in Los Angeles in August. We’re also reminded that Bob’s lucrative crime spree continues to fund other underground hate groups.

Nancy Baker’s editing appears to be entirely random, with the action vacillating between the compound in Washington and Philadelphia without much rhyme or reason. The passage of time is inexplicable. James Bagdonas’ camera work is fine, but Laura Karpman’s music is uneven, accentuating the mixed messages sent by the film.

Brotherhood of Murder

Showtime; Sun. Dec. 12, 8 p.m.

Production

Filmed in Vancouver by Showtime Network. Executive producers, Nelson I. Korchak, Thomas DeWolfe; director, Martin Bell; writer, Robert J. Avrech, based on the book by Thomas Martinez and John Guinther.

Crew

Camera, James Bagdonas; editor, Nancy Baker, music, Laura Karpman; casting, Coreen Mayrs. 90 MIN.

Cast

Tom Martinez - William Baldwin Bob Mathews - Peter Gallagher Susan Martinez - Kelly Lynch Larry Martin - Joel Keller Charles Higgins - Zack Ward Richard Parker - Vincent Gale Robert Maxim - Hrothgar Mathews Walter West - Stephen E. Miller Elizabeth Piercy - Mikela J. Mikael Jean Craig - Karen Elizabeth Austin

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