The Feds recruit squeaky-clean municipal judge Tim Nash (Selleck) for a sting operation designed to ensnare fellow judges. It snowballs, pitting the Eagle Scout against his colleagues, his family and everything he thinks he stands for. When he wants out, one of his father’s (Fritz Weaver) professional indiscretions is used to keep him in line. The way out of his quandary seems pretty straightforward, yet he’s too concerned about image to take action. Nash’s brief and bland fling with a sexy Fed (Elizabeth McGovern) is unmotivated.
Scripters Didion and Dunne seem more interested in exploring the underbelly of the legal system than the central character. There’s no discernible irony, and a freshly cynical tone is fleeting. The vidpic ends with a message about being innocent until proven guilty by a jury.
Geoffrey Sax directs with a confident hand but never comes close to penetrating the story’s veneer.
It takes some time to get accustomed to Selleck in judge’s robes and rimless glasses. There’s enough honesty in the performance but not enough gravitas. When it comes to complicated emotions and situations, Selleck appears to have graduated from the one-expression-fits-all school of acting (he’s amazingly unaffected by the suicide of a close friend and colleague, for example).
McGovern’s role is just ornamentation, though she’s good at staring at surveillance monitors and looking smart. William Atherton plays the slimy civil servant who could be on either side of the law. Most other perfs are cartoonish, notably Rob Labelle as a petty drug dealer. Marsha Mason, whose character seems to be on speed, delivers the most powerful moments as a lonely judge.
The message sent by the glossy production is that appearances deceive: The finer the costumes and set decoration, the finer the line between good and evil. To contrast with the ethical fog, the centerpiece courthouse is grand Norman Rockwell. Production designer Brent Thomas has been too successful in creating a striking setting, in the process sanitizing a production dealing with sleaze.