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‘Oklahoma City’ Doesn’t Capture Tragedy’s Depth

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Only the presence of triple Emmy Award winner Kathy Baker (“Picket Fences”) and the still-visceral shock of real scenes of the tragedy itself give any meaningful depth to tonight’s Lifetime movie “Oklahoma City: A Survivor’s Story.”

Leaving aside the troubling, ongoing issue of transmuting horrific trauma into mass entertainment, even Baker quickly loses her way as her character, weighted with a leaden halo of saintly victimhood, responds to the aftermath of the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.

The result is a painfully superficial effort to embody in one woman’s story the tragedy’s effect--on survivors, whose suffering included feeling guilty for having survived; on rescue workers haunted by those they couldn’t save; and on family members and friends.

Baker plays U.S. customs employee Priscilla Salyers, who endured being pinned beneath rubble for several hours after the explosion. In her depiction of a woman going about her daily routine--getting ready for work, trying to roust a son out of bed, sharing cookies and personal concerns about her marriage with an attractive male co-worker--Baker is on the mark. As is the realistic confusion, strength and primal fear she conveys during Salyers’ ordeal before rescue.

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After that, however, Baker’s Salyers has little to be but an icon of noble survival--especially to a heroic firefighter (Patrick Cassidy) and his crew. Her two teenage sons (John Hawkes and Eric Johnson) and an emotionally distant husband (Ray Baker has this irritating, thankless role) serve as little more than predictably fraught satellites.

* “Oklahoma City: A Survivor’s Story” can be seen at 9 tonight on Lifetime. The network has rated it TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children).


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