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TV REVIEWS : 'Shattered Trust': a Fierce Look at Incest

September 27, 1993|RAY LOYND | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Just when child molestation stories seemed to have been done to death, "Shattered Trust: The Shari Karney Story" (at 9 tonight on NBC, Channels 4, 36 and 39) brings a fierce perspective to the subject.

It's as if writer Susan Nanus had picked up the pieces of an oft-told tale and reforged them in the white heat of renewed passion on a subject many people have grown weary of.

The result is an absorbing study of a real-life California attorney (the entitled Shari Karney) who pioneered the legal concept of "delayed discovery" in incest cases. That's the concept, adopted by California in 1990, that exempts incest lawsuits from all time constraints.

Adding dimension to surface events is the lawyer-protagonist's traumatic discovery that her own father "incested" her too. (A horrible example of so-called therapy-speak, twisting a noun into a verb, incested is used throughout the movie, making the speaker sound like a trendy fool).

The movie's most searing scene, a genuine, emotional scorcher, occurs when Karney (an earnest and convincing Melissa Gilbert) confronts her father and duplicitous mother (the strongly cast Dick Latessa and Shirley Douglas) and lays their monstrous villainy on the line as they shriek denial. It's director William Corcoran's ultimate flourish.

But beware. The production makes no pretense at balanced storytelling. It does a sledgehammer job on fathers, complete with driven, avenging women and skeptical male judges who turn a blind eye to the worst-case scenarios.

But that very one-sidedness is the movie's strength. Carrying its heart on its sleeve, "Shattered Trust" assails the imagination through its burning meteor of a heroine and the dedicated colleagues around her: Ellen Burstyn as a quiet shrink who guides Karny back into her nightmarish childhood and Kate Nelligan as a late-appearing fellow attorney who teams up with Karney to blaze the trail of incest victims' rights.

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