12 March 2004 | DeeNine-2
Superior made-for-TV movie
(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon.)
Although director David Greene is known almost exclusively for his work in television, this movie is several notches above most TV fare. Running a full three hours and twenty minutes in two parts, Fatal Vision is just about as riveting as the book of the same name from which it was adapted. The screenplay by long time Hollywood pro John Gay amounts to an indictment of army Captain Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald, but then again so did the book.
Gary Cole gives a convincing performance as the former Green Beret army officer who was accused, and then some nine years after the fact, convicted of the murder of his pregnant wife Collette and two young daughters. Karl Malden plays Freddy Kassab, Collette's father, with his usual skill, while Eva Marie Saint plays Kassab's wife.
Since it is still being debated to this day whether Jeffrey MacDonald really was guilty of this horrendous crime (as he continues to serve his prison sentence), perhaps we should appreciate this movie strictly as a study in sociopathology.
The story begins February 17, 1970 with MacDonald phoning the police to report that his wife and two daughters had been brutally murdered by a marauding gang of hippies who broke into his home shouting "Kill the pigs, acid is groovy." He claims he tried to fight them off and was injured and knocked unconscious.
In contrast, the story presented by the prosecution and detailed in McGinniss's book, portrays MacDonald as having, in a fit of temper injured or killed a member of his family, and then to cover up that crime killed all of them, and then fabricated a crime scene to support his story including the infliction of superficial wounds upon himself.
The question most people would like answered is WHY would a previously upstanding member of the community, a successful doctor as well as a decorated army Captain, go to such a horrendous extreme to cover up a crime no worse than manslaughter, if that?
The answer is in the character of Jeffrey MacDonald himself who is depicted as a psychopath possibly under the influence of amphetamines, a man so callous and unfeeling about the pain and suffering of anyone except himself, that he would murder his own family in an attempt to divert the blame from himself. This was the answer that McGinniss came up with after spending a lot of time with MacDonald and after initially believing him to be innocent.
This is the answer that the jury believed, and this is the answer given in the character that Gary Cole so vividly portrays.
There are many kinds of truth--legal truth decided by a jury, scientific truth decided by experiment and confirmation, spiritual truth, etc. And there is cinematic artistic truth, decided by the viewer. I think the business-like direction from Greene and his adherence to McGinniss's "vision," along with the fine performance by Gary Cole make us aware of the reality that there are sociopaths among us who can charm and kill with equal ease.
Regardless of the true facts of the case (which we will never know for certain) it is this singular truth that makes this movie worth seeing.