Miniseries about a young Chicago couple being accused of the abduction and murder of their daughter is notable for its unfashionable stand in favor of preserving civil rights of the accused in face of rush to judgment by police, media and public. For many viewers, the four hours will be worth the effort, and the ultimate dramatic payoff involving the story’s actual protagonists is a real grabber.
Kevin Dillon and Shannen Doherty star as David and Cyndi Dowaliby, whose story is the basis of Brian L. Ross’ script. Murder of Dowaliby’s daughter occurred in 1988 and the script suggests that the investigation (the mini’s first two hours) and trials (second night) were fueled by the mayoral campaign of then-state attorney Richard M. Daley. Similarities to other recent cases abound.
How close this version is to actual facts is clouded by the vidpic’s well-hidden admission that certain unspecified characters and situations are figments of the writers’ imagination inserted for dramatic purposes.
One advantage for the vidpic of the “based on” disclaimer is the ability to name the “real killer” (though no people other than the Dowalibys were charged). Ross’ script takes its time, indulging in relatively few shortcuts — we know that David’s mother (Dixie Carter) is an alcoholic the moment she insists “I am not an alcoholic” and a particularly bad guy is seen unshaven and chain-smoking.
Viewers should be aware that the individual portrayed as one of only three straight-arrows on the Dowalibys’ side is journalism professor David Protess (Michael Brandon) who, in real life, was co-author of book upon which “Gone in the Night” was based.
Doherty’s strong, mature performance may surprise some. Perfs under Bill L. Norton’s direction are all fine, though billing of some actors is more a credit to the dealmaking than to their actual participation: Ed Asner is onscreen for a relatively few (albeit very effective) minutes, and Carter’s role would be below-the-title if played by a lesser-known thesp.
Tech credits are OK, though any advantage to shooting in Nebraska must have been financial; locations seem as generic as L.A. or Vancouver sites.