Wrapped in more layers than your mother’s average Lifetime drama, “The Tenth Circle” boils Jodi Picoult’s bestselling novel into a serviceable if not particularly engrossing movie. Jilted by her boyfriend, a disaffected teenager attempts to woo the lad back and winds up accusing him of rape, sending ripples through their small town and exposing rifts within her family. Welcome shades of gray make the prolonged trip to discovery slightly more compelling, but the actual resolution is a relatively weak tea.
Kelly Preston plays Laura, a college lit professor whose references to Dante’s circles of hell provides the title, which alludes to the torment faced by parents when something terrible happens to their child. Yet what transpired between 14-year-old Trixie (Britt Robertson) and her wayward b.f. confounds the local authorities as the case grows more entangled — causing one teen and then the other to endure life as a school pariah.
The unexpected depth comes from the distance that’s already driven a wedge between Laura and her husband Daniel (Ron Eldard), a comicbook artist who works from home and seems hit especially hard by his daughter’s pain. Both characters are flawed, with Laura finding scant relief in another’s bed, while Daniel’s emotional numbness is aroused to anger as he rallies to Trixie’s defense.
As adapted by director Peter Markle and writer Maria Nation, telepic does a nifty job of capturing the awkwardness of teenagers, whose hormones develop considerably faster than fully understood emotions. The performances from the three principals are equally laudable, with Robertson — who delicately conveys that angst-ridden twilight zone between maturity and childhood — commanding the lion’s share of screen time.
Chalk it up as another instance in which Lifetime has tapped into a viable literary source — as in its recent success with “The Memory Keeper’s Daughter” — and conjured a solid if creatively flawed femme-oriented movie. While this latest effort should score respectable ratings, mysteries of these sort are ultimately only as good as their payoff, and there “The Tenth Circle” is far from heaven.