It's easy to forget how corrosive hatred can be, for the hater more than the hated. The whole grudge thing is overrated. CBS's "Crossroads: A Story of Forgiveness" is a reminder of the beauty of clemency, and how it can free the soul from bitter self-absorption. Anger is healthy, until it is no longer healthy, and then it is a prison.
But in this Hallmark Hall of Fame production, the message of forgiveness isn't delivered with much power or subtlety, from the spoiler of a title to the numbed-out leading performances. For all of the tragedy, loneliness, and redemption in the script, the movie as a whole, tomorrow at 9 p.m. on Channel 4, fails to drive home the emotional truth of its conviction. It's an empty prescription bottle.
"Crossroads" is based on the much-publicized story of Bruce Murakami, whose wife and 11-year-old daughter were killed in a car crash in 1998. While grieving, Murakami and his two sons learned that the accident was caused by a car race, and that a young man named Justin Cabezas was responsible. They fought for justice against Cabezas, but when the Murakamis finally had their day in court, justice took on a different and more cosmic meaning for them. You know, read the movie title.
Dean Cain plays Murakami as an already stoic man who shuts down completely after the accident. Uninterested in his teen son, Brody (Landon Liboiron), he lets Brody drift into depression and resentment. He also fails to reach out to son Josh (Ryan Kennedy), who is in college. The only thing Murakami allows to permeate his shell is the need to put Justin Gutierrez (his last name is changed in the movie) behind bars. Rather than taking care of his own, he fixates on taking down The Other, with the help of a fierce attorney played forgettably by Peri Gilpin from "Frasier."
The three Murakami men glumly circle one another, with Brody straying farthest, running away to sleep in the graveyard, and then moving in with loving and lovable neighbor Melissa (Julie Warner). They evoke an alienation that is less like that of a family pulled apart and more like that of three strangers sharing a bench at a bus station. Their disconnection, so flat and lacking in resonance, undermines the impact of "Crossroads," especially when the men are finally meant to be rediscovering one another at long last. As Brody, Liboiron has a beautifully sad face, but it doesn't shift much during his arc, from the loss of his mother and sister to his reattachment to his father.
Cain, too, doesn't take us through the critical, incremental changes that bring Murakami from grief to fury to forgiveness. All the feelings look the same on him, and that stiffness keeps the viewer on the outside of the story. We're told about Murakami's remarkable growth, as he finds his way into mercy toward Justin, and toward himself. His transition is so thorough that he and Justin ultimately join forces to promote safe teen driving. But the grace of his turnaround is never palpable.
Only Shiloh Fernandez, who plays Justin (and looks like Joaquin Phoenix), has found the gut of his character, so his catharsis brings with it the sentiment you'd expect from a Hallmark movie. Justin's tears come from a dark place as they fall into the light.