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OH... WHAT A WEB WE WEAVE, WHEN FIRST WE PRACTICE TO DECEIVE
on September 27, 2003
This is a film that had a great premise going for it and, consequently, should have filled the screen with some semblance of suspense and drama. Unfortunately, as others have sagely pointed out, it resonates like a made for television movie, despite the stellar cast.
The film takes place in a rural area of Massachusetts, where an artist by profession, Ben Ryan (Liam Neeson), and his doctor wife, Carolyn (Meryl Streep), live with their two teenage children, Jacob (Edward Furlong) and Judith (Julia Weldon). Unbeknownst to Ben and Carolyn, Jacob is carrying on with the town's junior vixen. Things come to the fore when the young woman is found dead, and their son disappears. Naturally, things do not look good for Jacob. The well respected Ryan family suddenly find itself cast in the role of the town pariah, shunned by many of the local yokels.
Ben takes things into his own hand upon discovering evidence that would implicate Jacob in the girl's death and destroys that seemingly inculpatory evidence. When Jacob is apprehended and returned to face charges, the Ryans, upon the advice of a local attorney and friend, Wendell Bye (John Heard), obtain an experienced criminal defense attorney, Panos Demeris (Alfred Molina), for their son. Thereafter, Ben and Carolyn proceed to disregard everything that the attorney advises them to do. Moreover, they each do their own thing with respect to their son's interest, much to his detriment.
Ben comes across as a somewhat unlikable and doltish, single-minded character. While Carolyn, who seems to have a moral compass and knows the right thing to do, comes across as a foolish woman who neglects to include her son's attorney in the equation. Moreover, Bem goes and does exactly the opposite of what the attorney suggests, thinking that he knows better, as does Carolyn. The only ones in the Ryan family who are likable are our erstwhile killer and his sister.
Edward Furlong gives an excellent performance as Jacob, a young man who acts inappropriately when faced with what can only be characterized as a terrible tragedy, one that he did not foresee but perhaps should have. He ultimately finds his own moral compass, despite his father, and manages to make his troubled character sympathetic.
Meryl Streep gives a sanctimonious and priggish performance, barely able to rise above the banality of her character, while Liam Neeson's performance is best characterized as that of a bellowing bull in a china shop. Angelo Molina gives a an smoothly adept performance as the canny defense attorney who knows only too well what lies ahead for his hapless client, given the antics of Jacob's idiotic, though well-meaning, parents.
This is a drama that should have held the viewer spellbound, but which, instead, succeeds only in irritating the viewer for the most part. Moreover, the ending is absolutely ridiculous. The filmmakers should have had a legal consultant on the payroll, preferably one with a working knowledge of criminal law. If they had, they then should have considered suing whoever advised them so poorly.