Friday, October 13, 2023

Murdaugh Murders: The Movie, on Lifetime

Alex Murdaugh's family had been political power brokers in South Carolina when it was part of the solid Democratic South. They still maintained their influence when the state turned red through their money (fundraising for Biden and Hillary Clinton) and wheeling-dealing legal practice. However, Alex (or Alec) Murdaugh destroyed the family reputation by committing a host of crimes, including (but not limited to) murder. The whole true-crime scandal unfolds in the two-part Murdaugh Murders: The Movie, which premieres tomorrow on Lifetime.

Even though it consists of two installments, Lifetime is calling
Murdaugh Murders its 500th original movie. That is a lot of cheating wives and dentists stalking their patients. A sleazebag like Murdaugh is comfortably fits in their power zone. Of course, he is universally respected when the film starts, as the heir to a dynastic Low Country law firm. However, his son’s legal troubles will ignite his spectacular fall from grace.

Eventually, Murdaugh will be tried for the murder of his wife Maggie and son Paul, but writer Michael Vickerman and director Greg Beeman do not make the latter’s death look like any great loss to society. Thanks to a drunken boating accident, Paul Murdaugh was facing criminal and civil proceedings. Inconveniently, the Murdaugh finances were already precarious, due to Alex/Alec’s mismanagement, so he started stealing his clients’ settlements. He did not merely skim a little extra off the top. He redirected the whole darned payout to accounts he controlled. He also maybe murdered the family’s longtime housekeeper.

Murdaugh’s motives for gunning down his wife and son remain a little vague, but it is clear he was cracking from the combined pressures, also including an increasingly angry unpaid Oxy dealer. Regardless, there is no ambiguity regarding Murdaugh’s guilt, largely due to Bill Pullman’s wildly jittery meltdowns as the sociopathic Murdaugh.

Pullman’s certainly follows Lifetime’s melodramatic style sheet, starting with his weirdly reedy mint julep-and-pimento cheese accent, which slips and slides all over the place. Be that as it may, Pullman’s twitchy showmanship is entertaining. Lauren K. Robek is credibly down-to-earth as Maggie Murdaugh, but Curtis Tweedle is absolutely charmless as the entitled Paul.

Frankly, #500 could have used a strong nemesis to play off Murdaugh, but the cops, FBI agents, and prosecutors are all disappointingly generic. Besides Pullman, only Serge Houde leaves any appreciable impression, as the understated but shrewd defense attorney, Jim Griffin.

Throughout the two-parter, Murdaugh’s older son Buster is frequently mentioned, but his absence is never explained, perhaps for legal reasons. There has been speculation regarding his involvement in the death of a former classmate, but no charges were ever filed. Keep in mind, you can get sued for allegedly libelous screenplays, as Ava Duvarney and Netflix just learned. Still, Buster’s unspoken troubles are always the conspicuous elephant in the room.

In any event, Alex Murdaugh should be sufficiently scandalous for any one family. Pullman makes the most of his chance to play against type, chewing the scenery with villainous relish and sweating like a stuck pig. The vast majority of Lifetime’s original movies probably qualify as “guilty pleasures” (except maybe
Mahalia) and that is especially true of Pullman’s work here. Recommended for fans of campy true crime, Murdaugh Murders: The Movie airs Saturday and Sunday nights (10/14 & 10/15) on Lifetime.