"Paris Trout" is not only perhaps the best television movie of the year, but it's also perhaps the most difficult to watch.
Violent. Terrifying. But at the same time mesmerizing.Based on the novel by Pete Dexter (who also wrote the screenplay), the movie focuses on Paris Trout (Dennis Hopper), a bigoted, insane Southerner whose paranoia ruins the lives of everyone around him.
The trouble begins when Trout, a merchant and money lender, sells his car to a young black man. When the buyer learns he's been cheated and refuses to pay, Trout goes into a rage.
The result is a horrific scene in which Trout shoots the young man's mother and 12-year-old sister, wounding the former and killing the latter. What makes the incident all the more horrifying is that Trout genuinely believes he had a right to act as he did and believes he should get off with, at worst, a fine.
And, sadly, in 1949 Georgia there were a lot of people who believed that a white man could pretty much do as he pleased when dealing with black people.
The incident causes Trout's wife, Hanna (Barbara Hershey), to leave her empty and terrifying marriage - leading to another grotesque scene in which Trout sexually assaults her. Eventually, Hanna ends up in the arms of Trout's well-intentioned lawyer (Ed Harris).
Throughout, Hopper gives an incredible, chilling performance. His portrayal of Trout doesn't go over the top but offers a remarkable look at a man who's seen as an upstanding citizen by other white people despite an extremely tenuous grasp on reality.
Hershey and Harris - comprising a cast better than that of most big-budget feature films - also turn in remarkable performances.
This is not a movie for everyone, and certainly not for anyone but adults. (There's violence, brief nudity, sexual situations, and very adult themes.) But it is extremely well-directed, wonderfully acted and affecting. And there aren't many made-for-cable movies that can claim that.
Other shows worth noting this weekend include:
- Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue (Saturday, 8 a.m., Nickelodeon; 8:30 a.m., Family; 9:30 a.m., Ch. 2; noon, Disney; and Sunday, 8 a.m., Ch. 5): Repeating last year's half hour anti-drug message, which features all of your kids' favorite characters - everyone from Winnie the Pooh to Bugs Bunny, the Smurfs to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
- NBA basketball (Saturday, 1 p.m., Ch. 2): The Jazz host the Lakers in a game telecast nationally by NBC.
- One Man's War (Saturday, 9 p.m., HBO): OK but overwrought story of a Paraguayan doctor (well-played by Anthony Hopkins) whose son was tortured and murdered by government troops under dictator Alfredo Stroessner. Quite similar to the theatrical film "Missing" in many ways, it's a harsh look at a harsh life under a ruthless military strongman.
- NFL Draft (Sunday, 10 a.m., ESPN): See what team takes your favorite college player! See whom your favorite pro team takes! See how long all this takes! For football junkies only.
- Stanley & Iris (Sunday, 10 a.m., 10 p.m., HBO): Robert DeNiro and Jane Fonda star as an illiterate man and the co-worker who teaches him to read. A low-key drama and love story makes its television debut.
- The Perfect Tribute (Sunday, 8 p.m., Ch. 4): An almost unrecognizable (under makeup) Jason Robards stars as Abraham Lincoln in this made-for-TV premiere that mixes a bit of fact with a lot of fiction and the Gettysburg address. A young Southern boy (Lucas Haas) travels to Washington, D.C., to see his Confederate prisoner brother, who's dying after being wounded at Gettysburg, learning about the horrors of war along the way. A morose Lincoln, struggling with the weight of the war, thinks his efforts and speech are going for naught. But an unlikely meeting of the three restores the faith of all.
It's sometimes overly sentimental, often historically questionable, but effective and touching nonetheless. A good movie for the entire family.