TV REVIEW : Vigilante Tale Strikes Nerve

After the execution of Robert Alton Harris and the rioting stemming from the Rodney G. King verdicts, a movie about an individual's obsessional demand for justice could hardly hit a more sensitive and subliminal nerve than "In My Daughter's Name" (at 9 p.m. Sunday on CBS, Channels 2 and 8).

Unlike another TV movie that was supposed to air Monday night and was postponed because of its stark treatment of racial violence--NBC's "In the Line of Duty: Street War"--"In My Daughter's Name" is essentially an interior drama of a mother's personal quest to even the score for her daughter's rape and murder.

But the emotions triggered by this story's eye-for-an-eye Old Testament vengeance are as cathartic as, well, those old "Death Wish" movies with Charles Bronson. (He played a character whose daughter had been raped and killed too.)

Donna Mills delivers what is probably her best dramatic work and sinks her teeth into a role that is hard to resist: a suburban mom who, beside herself with grief and rage, stalks her daughter's killer after the courts acquit and free him on the grounds of temporary insanity. The killer is played with a smirky veneer of arrogance and charm and is cast just right with Adam Storke.

The script (by Mimi Rothman Schapiro and Bill Wells, based on a screenplay by Sharon Michaels) pushes basic, emotional, almost operatic responses. Who hasn't wanted to kill somebody? There's no room here for Mother Teresa; hate must be served. There's a can't-miss appeal to that, but it's also the movie's moral albatross.

Concluding courtroom scenes are routine in TV. This one, however, with Mills on the stand wearing her guilt like a badge and insisting on her sanity, is especially dramatic, under Mills' fine performance and Jud Taylor's taut direction.

On its most accessible level, the story is about an individual's total sense of isolation when the justice system doesn't work. When the killer is first freed, the failed prosecutor (John Rubinstein) won't help the mother, the media turn their back on her, and her husband (John Getz) keeps telling her that she must forget and start life over again.

But unlike everyone else around her, she can't--and she won't.

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