The eternal battle between good and evil is a passionate one, or so we have been led to believe, which casts the passionless The Trial in an odd light. Wasting the talents of dependable actors Matthew Modine, Robert Forster, and Bob Gunton on two-dimensional characters, The Trial disappoints because it fails to involve the viewer in the underdeveloped storyline.
Mac McClaine (Matthew Modine) is a depressed, retired attorney who is just about to blow his brains out when his phone rings. It seems that his wife and two sons were killed in an automobile accident some time ago, and he may have been driving under the influence when it happened (this is merely hinted at; we’re told of the accident, and we learn that he doesn’t drink “anymore”). Calling Mac is his old friend, Judge Danielson, who would like to see him. Well, that’s enough to live for, isn’t it?
The judge forces him to take a capital murder case—a young man is accused of killing his girlfriend. It seems there had been a car crash, but the girl wasn’t killed by the crash, she’d already been strangled. The young man was found wandering about the scene, totally under the influence. Of course, he remembers nothing, but he knows he didn’t kill the girl he loved.
Trying not to be too harsh, I search for a word to describe the proceedings. Here it is—boring. The audience is never given enough of any of the characters to care about them. Whether the young man (Randy Wayne) is found guilty or innocent is about as interesting as whether your neighbor’s kid is going to get a blonde or a brunette Barbie this Christmas.
Compounding the lack of character development is the lack of evidence presented at the trial. The audience is never shown enough to be convinced one way or the other, guilty or not guilty. With the annoyingly dry presentation of the case and absolutely no emotions or theatrics in the courtroom, viewers might feel they’d be more excited by attending a session of traffic court.
It all comes down to this: if Matthew Modine is the lawyer and the hero, then his client must be innocent. Even the attempt to pin the murder on a lecherous uncle is flat and unpromising.
Finally, in the last ten minutes, there’s some action. Very mild action. It’s sad that a movie about a kid who may get the death penalty, may get a life sentence, or may go free is so totally uninvolving. When the whole thing is over, the final message is “let go and let God,” which is reassuring for believers, but not terribly entertaining.
There is one special feature on the DVD, audio commentary by director Gary Wheeler, writer Robert Whitlow, and writer/producer Mark Freiburger.
Bottom Line: Skip it.