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'Beyond' a Struggle for Redemption

June 22, 1996|LYNNE HEFFLEY

A film about a death row inmate and a good woman struggling for his redemption as they commune face-to-face through a barrier of safety mesh may sound familiar, but Showtime's lugubrious "Beyond the Call" is no "Dead Man Walking."

David Strathairn plays Russell, a psychologically tortured man who is unable to convince authorities that his crimes of murder were the result to his Vietnam War-induced post-traumatic shock syndrome.

Sissy Spacek is his long-lost high school sweetheart, Pam, who learns of his impending execution and reestablishes contact with him, seeing the goodness underneath the anger and pain and, during prison visits, rekindling their past, jeopardizing her marriage in the process.

Arliss Howard is her resentful husband, another Vietnam vet harboring secret pain and shame about his experiences in the war.

Pam's striving to break through Russell's bitter, self-destructive defenses eventually leads to a breakthrough for each of them, as the mostly static, conversational drama is combined with flashbacks of teenage romance and bloody battle.

Unfortunately, self-pity is the unintentional but all-pervasive tenor of the film, which attempts to underscore the nation's still-uneasy response to Vietnam and its aftermath. It leaves viewers out of the loop and at an emotional remove, undermining even Spacek's usual purity of performance. Tony Bill directed; the film was written by Doug Magee.

* "Beyond the Call" airs at 8 p.m. Sunday on Showtime.

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