The story of a Seattle arsonist who set at least 76 major fires, “Not Our Son” is bound in by its based-on-a-true-story format but nevertheless effectively catches the impact on his loving family. Under Michael Rhodes’ savvy direction, the vidpic lights up several dark corners.
Divorced, carrying an unexplained rage in himself, mild-looking Paul Keller works for his dad’s advertising firm, loves his mom, his sister and brother, and he seems content.
A rash of fires throughout the Seattle area doesn’t seem close to any of them, but witnesses and circumstances bring Paul into the focus of an arson task force.
Scripter Scott Swanton adroitly draws his characters and their personal relationships, and Rhodes shrewdly guides the cast and crew in unfolding the story.
The father’s pain, the mother’s anguish, the denials and acceptance are all the worse because the family is with the psalm-singing young man daily. After medical evidence surfaces, it becomes a matter of confronting Paul and getting him to confess.
When a sketch of the suspect appears on the front page of the local paper, the fat’s in the fire and culminates in a tear-jerk family dinner guaranteed to soften the most skeptical.
Helping are superior performances by Neil Patrick Harris as Paul and Gerald McRaney as his father. How Dad works with Paul to sustain their bond is indeed moving.
Cindy Pickett as the mother, Jason Gaffney as the brother and Ari Myers as the sister in the all-American family are fine, as are Tom Verica and Scott Allan Campbell as the task force chiefs.
But it’s Harris, with his sensitive study of an ailing man, and McRaney, as the hurting but dutiful father, who take the cake in the surprisingly effective story of a chase.
Telefilm looks great, and the production is beautifully controlled. A resourceful Gary Paller is credited as special effects consultant, and Mark Akerstream was stunt coordinator.
What might have been played as a run-of-the-mill mystery or thriller instead reaches inside the affected people and brings back drama and illumination.