[Screen It]


(1996) (Meryl Streep, Liam Neeson) (PG-13)

Blood/Gore Disrespectful/
Bad Attitude
Tense Scenes
Mild Mild Moderate Mild Minor
Moderate None Mild None Moderate
Smoking Tense Family
Topics To
Talk About
Moderate None Heavy Mild Mild

A family must deal with the fact that their son might have killed his girlfriend.
The Ryans are a typical family that lives in a small town. Carolyn (MERYL STREEP) is a doctor, Ben (LIAM NEESON) is an artist and Jacob (EDWARD FURLONG) and Judith (JULIA WELDON) are their normal kids. This normalcy is shattered when Jacob disappears and the police arrive, accusing him of murdering Terry Tavernor (ANN MAGNUSON), his secret girlfriend. No one saw him commit the murder, but he was the last person seen with her and the fact that he's disappeared doesn't help. Nor does the fact that Ben destroys incriminating evidence he finds in Jacob's car to protect his son. The Ryans hire a defense lawyer, Panos Demeris (ALFRED MOLINA) who will do whatever it takes to defend the boy, regardless of the truth. Jacob eventually tells his parents the real truth, and from that point on the family is torn between wanting to save their boy by any means possible, and telling the truth and letting the chips fall where they may.
It's doubtful. There are no big draws for kids and the plot won't interest most.
For some disturbing images of violence, brief strong language and some sensuality.
  • MERYL STREEP plays the loving mother who is troubled by the fabricated defense story that may keep her son out of jail.
  • LIAM NEESON plays the father who will do anything, including breaking the law and making up false stories, to protect his son.
  • EDWARD FURLONG plays the teenager, accused of murder, who wants the truth to be known, no matter the consequences.
  • ALFRED MOLINA plays the defense lawyer who will do anything within the legal law to defend his client.


    OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
    While the story of a family torn over how to defend their son has promise, it's been done before and here it plays out very much like a made-for-TV movie. There's a lot of star power in this film, but it's pretty much wasted. Streep gives her usual competent performance, but something about Neeson's role just doesn't ring true. To top it off, most of the dialogue is stilted and never sounds realistic. The son has lines such as "From the moment I picked her up..." that just wouldn't come out of this teenage slacker's mouth. The dialogue probably looked good in the script, but sometimes well written lines sound artificial when spoken. Nothing comes as a surprise and while the moral issues are explored, they don't create the fireworks that they should. We give this one just a 3 out of 10.
    The morality of what's right and wrong and how far one should go to protect family are the big issues in this movie. They could provide for a good topic of conversation between parents and older children. Although he's trying to save his son, the father's repeated actions of breaking the law and fabricating false stores may be a bad influence on kids. A moderate amount of profanity is heard and one relatively tame sex scene between the Ryans in seen. There is the topic of the murder of a young woman, but her death turns out to be an accident. The events causing her death are seen as is her bloody body in the emergency room. As always, make sure you read through the scene listings before allowing your children to see this movie.

  • Carolyn drinks wine at home after having seen the dead girl in the emergency room.
  • Ben offers a beer to the police chief who declines.
  • The lawyer says that he'll do anything to defend Jacob including saying that he was drunk, stoned or on cocaine if that helps him beat the charges.
  • Ben and Carolyn have wine with dinner.
  • The dead girl is seen lying on an operating table. Her face is quite bloody and there are bloody scrapes on her arms.
  • Ben finds a blood covered jack and bloody gloves and rags in the trunk of Jacob's car.
  • An 8x10 photo of the murdered girl is seen (her face is bloody).
  • Fresh burn wounds are seen on Jacob's arm.
  • While fighting with Jacob, Terry falls to the ground and lands on the car jack. As she lies there motionless, a large pool of blood flows from her body.
  • Ben destroys the possibly incriminating evidence that he finds in the trunk of Jacob's car.
  • The townspeople aren't nice to the Ryans. Threatening phone calls are made. School kids talk behind Judith's back. Patients cancel their appointments with Dr. Ryan. And some locals throw a rock through their window and then burn one of Ben's sculpture pieces in the front yard.
  • Ben won't let Carolyn tell the police about post cards they've received from Jacob for fear that they'll intercept the rest of their mail.
  • Jacob tells his parents the truth, but Ben won't have any of that and fabricates a fake story that he finally convinces his son to accept.
  • Panos can't believe that Carolyn's told the grand jury the truth and not their lie. He then tells her that he'll make her out to be crazy and out to get her son.
  • Ben is furious at Carolyn for having told the grand jury the truth and fights with her in front of the kids.
  • As Ben is destroying evidence in the garage, the police approach and enter the garage just as he's finishing up.
  • There is a flashback scene of the girl's death and the fact that we know what's coming makes the scene tense.
  • Knife: Used by a local guy to momentarily threaten Ben and his family, but he's never that close to them.
  • Destroying evidence and making up stories to cover up the truth.
  • Phrases: "Bastard," "I hate you," and "Shut up."
  • None.
  • There is a mild amount of tense music in the movie.
  • None.
  • 1 "f" word, 3 "s" words, 2 slang terms for female genitals (the "p" word), 6 hells, 5 damns, and 5 uses of "God damn," 4 uses of "God," 3 uses of "Jesus," 2 uses each of "Oh my God," "For God's sake," and "Oh God," and 1 use of "Jesus Christ" as exclamations.
  • The police find a nude picture of the girl hidden in Jacob's dresser, but it only shows her from the waist up and her arms cover her breasts, so nothing's really seen.
  • Jacob says his girlfriend was pregnant, but not from him because they were "careful."
  • Ben and Carolyn passionately kiss in bed. He then climbs on top of her and pulls her skirt up. We then see some sexual movement, but only from the torso up and no nudity is seen.
  • Jacob and Terry make out in his car and she then tells him that she's pregnant.
  • None.
  • Judith says that she heard her father and Jacob fighting, and later Ben states that he raised his fist during the argument, but didn't strike his son.
  • The Ryans must deal with not knowing where their son is and not knowing if he had anything to do with the girl's murder or might be dead himself.
  • Jacob won't talk with his parents when they visit him for the first time after his arrest.
  • The parents fight (verbally) in front of the kids.
  • Judith gets mad that everyone else in the family (including her mother) is going along with the fabricated defense story.
  • Judith rushes out (after a family encounter with some local guys) and tells Jacob, "I wish you'd never come back. I hate you!"
  • How far one should go to protect family and/or break the law to do so. In this story, the father destroys evidence and then concocts a story to "prove" his son's innocence.
  • Ben pushes the police chief aside when he starts asking Judith if she knows anything about her brother and the dead girl.
  • Ben tells Carolyn the biblical story of Abraham and Isaac and that God tells Abraham to prove his faith by sacrificing his son. Ben says "he'll (Abraham) cut his own son's throat if that's what God requires."
  • Some local guys throw a rock through the Ryan's front window and then burn one of Ben's sculptures in the front yard. When Ben comes running out, one of the guys pulls out a knife. Jacob rushes out with a stick and the guys drive away in their truck. Jacob then throws the stick at the burning sculpture and part of it falls on him and catches his arm on fire.
  • After they can't get their car out of the snow, Jacob slaps Terry when she calls him a vulgar name. She then comes after him with a crow bar and they struggle over it. She breaks free and swings the bar again, barely missing his face. He then hits her on the head and she falls and lands on the car jack with a large pool of blood then flowing from her head.

  • Reviewed September 7, 1996

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