The courtroom scenes used some statements lifted directly from court transcripts, mixing and juxtaposing testimony and witnesses from each side for dramatic effect, and mingling made-up scenes with altered or out-of-sequence events that were testified to, but which may or may not have happened.
Santa Monica Superior Court Judge Laurence J. Rittenband, who presided at Hunt's trial and at Pittman's first trial here, said he found the show "a fair and entertaining representation of the facts. The broad outlines of the case are presented, although they took a little poetic license and they didn't quite capture the spirit of the trial."
However, he said, "the public will get a false picture of what happens at a real trial because none of that testimony about Hunt's character and other alleged crimes, including the second murder, could ever come up during the guilt phase of a trial the way it did in the movie. All that came later, during the penalty phase after he had been found guilty."
Prosecutor Fred Wapner, who was invited to the preview, said he found the story "pretty factually accurate," with some exceptions.
"The cutting back and forth from the courtroom to actual enactment bothered me," he said. "You assume that (what you are seeing is) the true story."
He cited a scene in which Hunt's girlfriend, a defense witness, finds him crying on the bed after learning that the $1.5-million check he killed Levin for bounced.
The young woman indeed testified to such an event. But Wapner said he doubts it really happened: "I think that's bull . . . a lie."
The girl testified that when she asked Hunt whether he had tried to reach Levin, he told her he had telephoned him repeatedly and even driven by his house several times but got no response--an answer that indicated he had no knowledge that Levin was missing or dead but thought the con man was simply avoiding him. The movie scene, however, ends with a close-up of Hunt reacting to her question in silence, with a look that shows he knows Levin is dead.
--Hunt's bodyguard admits that he helped kidnap the second murder victim, although such evidence has not yet emerged in court, and Pittman's attorney branded the scene "completely false." (It was apparently based on a police report of a phone call from a BBC lawyer.)
--The film makes it appear that Levin's scam caused the Billionaire Boys Club's financial problems, when in fact court testimony showed that Hunt had been been taking and living off investors' money for months in a classic Ponzi scheme and sending out phony financial statements.
--Key witness Karny appears as a conscience-stricken youth sucked in by Hunt, while on the witness stand he came across as a wimpy clone of Hunt who finally went to the police to save his own skin. (He is now in a federal witness protection program.)
--Finally, contrary to the film's impression, the murders were not "solved" by Billionaire Boys Club members Tom and Dave May of the May Co. department store family (Eric and Chris Fairmont in the film) and Jeff Raymond (Brad Sedgwick in the film), but by painstaking investigation by respected Beverly Hills Police Det. Les Zoeller, portrayed in the movie as a bumbling cop, and investigators in Northern California.
The truth--or fiction--of events surrounding the Northern California case should become clearer when those trials have been completed and those directly involved are free to talk.
"I really think it is irresponsible to have aired this now while the trials are still going on," said Wapner, for once in agreement with defense attorneys. "The story is so inherently entertaining that if they had waited and done it better, it would have been just as interesting two years from now."