Review: ‘The Killing Yard’

Reducing the 1971 massacre at Attica State Penitentiary to a laborious procedural talkathon, Showtime's 30th-anniversary original pic "The Killing Yard" is a poorly written and flatly made depiction of actual post-riot trial and fallout that reps a major disappointment in the career of Martinique-born helmer Euzhan Palcy.

Reducing the 1971 massacre at Attica State Penitentiary to a laborious procedural talkathon, Showtime’s 30th-anniversary original pic “The Killing Yard” is a poorly written and flatly made depiction of actual post-riot trial and fallout that reps a major disappointment in the career of Martinique-born helmer Euzhan Palcy (1983’s “Sugar Cane Alley,” due on DVD Dec. 18). There’s nothing here to suggest life beyond the Sept. 23 airdate.

Four years after unrest, black inmate Shango (Morris Chestnut) is charged with the murders of two white prisoners, apparently in lieu of bringing guilty guards to justice. Lured out of retirement to try the case is defense attorney Ernie Goodman (Alan Alda), now in poor health. With Shango as co-counsel and activist Linda Borus (Rose McGowan) mobilizing grassroots support, Goodman successfully defends his client. Though the uprising was bloody and provokes controversy to this day, script too often surfs on underdog cliches. Perfs are at best uneven (vet Alda fares best in full weary mode), and sensationalist scenes of prison revolt, told as B&W flashbacks, seem to have sucked energy from the rest of pic. Tech credits are TV bland.

The Killing Yard

Production

A Showtime and Paramount Network Television presentation of a Harris & Co. production. (International sales: Paramount, Los Angeles.) Produced by Daniele Rohrbach, Benita Garvin. Executive producers, Robert Harris, James Korris. Co-executive producers, Michelle Mundy, Estelle Lasher. Directed by Euzhan Palcy. Screenplay, Benita Garvin.

Crew

Camera (color), John W. Simmons; editor, Paul La Mastra; music, Patrice Rushen; production designer, Francois Lamontagne. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Planet Africa), Sept. 11, 2001. Running time: 110 MIN.

With

Alan Alda, Morris Chestnut, Rose McGowan, Arthur Holden, Robert B. Kennedy, Benz Antoine, Chip Chuipka, Lindsay Owen Pierre, Kwasi Songui, John W. Simmons, Amy Sloan, Slim Williams, Henry Pardo, Larry Day, Dean Fleming, Kevin Ryder, Dawn Ford, Charles Doucet.
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