In “A Family Divided,” Faye Dunaway stars as Karen Billingsly, a comfortable, affluent housewife content to avoid any undue introspection. That’s no longer an option when her college-age son, Chad (Cameron Bancroft), takes part in a gang rape that leads to a death at his fraternity, and the rest of the family circles the wagons to protect him.
What could be a genuinely absorbing theme--familial loyalty versus one’s own moral imperatives--is given the once-over-lightly TV-movie gloss. This kind of ethical dilemma would certainly be chewed over in protracted, tortuous conversations, but since TV-movie scenes can only last a few minutes, any serious discussion routinely ends with a random outburst or some inscrutable proclamation that’s supposed to settle the issue but scarcely does.
There’s no mention, for example, of how this spoiled, tousle-haired lad would fare in prison or in the future, certain to be a consideration among family members so keen to shelter him from justice. Worse, for the moral center of the story, Karen is certainly made of mush--she’s appalled that her attorney husband (Stephen Collins) wants to cover the whole thing up, yet she herself is not moved to share what she knows with authorities.
Vagaries are the order of the day. It’s never made clear just how far Chad’s school is from his home, whether it’s in town or in a nearby one (family members pop back and forth between each, though they often seem surprised to see one another), and there’s no sense of whether this drama plays out over a few days or weeks--a key question, since Chad is clearly eaten up with guilt (Bancroft does everything except tattoo the word guilty to his forehead).
Despite a histrionic moment here or there, director Donald Wrye doesn’t bring much urgency to the proceedings. “A Family Divided” is workmanlike but bland, rendered in a fashion so dispassionate it verges on indifference.
* “A Family Divided” airs at 9 p.m. Sunday on NBC (Channels 4, 36 and 39).