LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - If there’s something familiar about the story of a man who forgave a reckless teen for killing his wife and young daughter in an auto crash, it’s because the tale has made the rounds. It’s been reported on “Dateline,” “Good Morning America” and “The Early Show.” Bruce Murakami, the widowed father, has told it to Connie Chung, Montel Williams and John Walsh.
Even so, it comes across with fresh power and haunting impact in the dramatization on the latest “Hallmark Hall of Fame” presentation. That’s not to say that it plays out evenly, though. The story is highly condensed, so much so that it looks as if the writers raced the clock to an improbably optimistic conclusion.
Still, you have to admire their attempt to deal with a variety of compelling themes, including grief, forgiveness, justice and family. And you have to applaud the performance of Dean Cain who, as Murakami, makes credible the transition from uncomprehending sadness to magnanimous forgiveness.
In November 1998, a teenage driver, Justin Cabezas, raced another car down a busy city street. His speedometer froze at 85 miles per hour when it hit the minivan driven by Cindy, Murakami’s wife. The collision pushed the minivan into an oncoming SUV, killing Cindy and their 11-year-old daughter.
Initially, Cindy was ruled at fault for inattentive driving. Murakami, with the help of an aggressive lawyer and investigators, not only cleared Cindy’s name but provided enough evidence to charge Cabezas with vehicular manslaughter. All of this took years. Meanwhile, Murakami found Cabezas to be genuinely remorseful. They worked out an agreement that kept Cabezas, by then 21, out of prison in exchange for house arrest, probation and hundreds of hours of speeches before teens about the danger of road racing on city streets.
In “Crossroads,” names are changed to protect the guilty. Justin Cabezas becomes Justin Gutierrez. Shiloh Fernandez, who plays him beautifully, projects the regret and pain felt by a basically decent kid whose thoughtless decision snuffed out two lives. Peri Gilpin, as Murakami’s lawyer, is mostly wasted in a role that exists mostly to advance the story line.
The teleplay by Peter Hunziker, Cynthia Riddle and Oliver Goldstick diverts too much time away from the evolution of Murakami’s emotions with endless scenes of angry and sullen son Brody (Landon Liboiron) but otherwise strikes a reasonable compromise between creating drama, developing character and recreating history. Director John Kent Harrison keeps things fluid, prevents the film from getting overly maudlin and provides many imaginative scene transitions.
Bruce Murakami: Dean Cain
Erin Teller: Peri Gilpin
Brody Murakami: Landon Liboiron
Justin Gutierrez: Shiloh Fernandez
Melissa: Julie Warner
Cindy: Chelah Horsdal
Paul: Geoffrey Rivas
Nancy: Venus Terzo
Executive producer: Brent Shields; Producers: Andrew Gottlieb, Jim Head; Director: John Kent Harrison; Teleplay: Peter Hunziker, Cynthia Riddle, Oliver Goldstick; Story: Cynthia Riddle, Peter Hunziker; Editor: Henk van Eeghen; Music: Lawrence Shragge; Casting: Molly Lopata, Coreen Mayrs, Heike Brandstatter.