Dead Before Dawn Review
Cheryl Ladd plays Linda, a wife and mother of two children. What appears on the outside as the perfect ‘American Dream’ family, quickly establishes itself as a window dressed nightmare. Linda’s husband Robert, played by Jameson Parker, is abusive and obsessed, using the children for his own mind games and pushing his wife around without remorse. After one too many beatings, Linda moves into her parent’s house and files for divorce. However, Robert is worried about his professional career being hampered if he is caught up in divorce proceedings so hires a hit man to murder his wife.
This film, based on a true story, looks for all the world like it was rushed through production. As it was made for television, this was probably the case.
Director Charles Correll attempts to tell us the story efficiently without leaving out important parts but in doing so, shoots himself in the foot. This story should be about the characters, namely the wife and the husband; yet what we get is a caricature wife and a husband lost in the background of a plodding narrative. Ladd goes from worried mum ‘what about the kids?’ to worried mum ‘what about the kids?’; with no real development. Why doesn’t she ever get angry? Parker oozes cheese, and while he does have some of the worst lines in cinema history, you’d think he was playing his part for spoof laughs than serious drama. A perfect example, would be when he slurs out the line, ‘it’s going to be a killer year’ obviously referring to his wife’s possible death. The line is bad enough, yet it is his cheeky grin that immediately reminded me of Dr. Evil’s forced laughter in Austin Powers, that had me in tears. More attention should have been paid to the development of the characters. We are told nothing of why she married this man in the first place, nor do we really know why she stayed with him. Additionally, we are left in the dark about the husband’s real motives, his background and why he treats people like he does. This became increasingly frustrating as he had the capability of being the most interesting character.
The story finds itself confused in its own voice. We are told it from the wife’s point of view, yet, in a probable attempt to keep the story pushing forward, we continually cut to what the husband is doing. This acts against its own purpose with continuous cat and mouse style exposition taking the viewer out of the mindset of the character, leaving you feeling like you’re being told superfluous details from a story passed through the mechanics of a ‘Chinese whisper’.
Charles Correll, who has also worked as cinematographer on many projects, doesn’t help the film with his heavy-handed direction. He continually allows his camera to be obtrusive on the action, and never misses an opportunity to over cook shots in an attempt to add to the tension. Low angle; high angle; slow zooms; fade to blacks are all there to be seen, yet only half do their jobs successfully leaving the other half looking plain and silly. At times, some of the badly acted scenes coupled with cheesy dialogue and overtly elaborate direction, leave the film dwindling in ‘farce’ land and the viewer perplexed at how over-cooked things are.
Acting honours (or should that be over-acting honours) go to Jameson Parker and Keone Young, who plays the man who Parker goes to see in regards the possible ‘hit’ on his wife. Admittedly, they both have the worst dialogue to deal with, but neither brings anything to their respective characters and both appear shallow and plain. Some of their dialogue is close to ludicrous, yet both over-play their roles neither appearing bold or assured.
The film begins slowly, as we meet the characters, and struggles to gain any kind of momentum. Correll attempts to provide some tension, and while this works satisfactorily, the tension is lost because the pace continually lags leaving most ‘tension’ based scenes shallow.
The musical score accompanying the film is nothing other than intrusive. Much like the camerawork, the score builds every little thing up to a crescendo, never letting you think for yourself and clearly delineating each and every important moment. The truth is, most of these ‘so-called’ important parts aren’t greatly important, nor are they very interesting which probably answers the question of why such an over-powering score was utilised – to keep you awake!
The only light half-burning in this ever-deepening tunnel is Cheryl Ladd’s performance. Again, although her role is not well-written she performs with enough self-assurance that we at least feel sympathetic towards her. The film also benefits from a reasonably fast paced last thirty minutes, which is where the film gains most of its brownie points. Kim Coates, in the role of an undercover F.B.I agent, is super cool and brings the film a gritty realism totally lacking previously.
Unfortunately, the ending is a let down, quickly sorting out loose ends without any kind of satisfactory conclusion.
The picture is correctly framed at 1.33:1 and isn’t enhanced for widescreen television screens. The picture lacks any sharpness or clarity. Colours are bland, and the contrast level appears a little high. A hazy ‘bee-like’ swarm covers many scenes, and becomes quite distracting.
The sound is Dolby Digital 2.0, with all the sounds centred in the front speakers. The sound separation is poor, with not much going on in either the front right/left speakers. However, even though the film lacks any kind of a spatial sound environment it doesn’t lose out, because it was made for television, surround sound wasn’t the priority.
The extras are largely promotional. A trailer, more interesting than the film, is to be found on the main menu. Three other trailers for true story made-for-TV films can be found in the ‘special features’ section, which also includes good biographies of the leading actors.
This movie certainly won’t win any Oscars; it has its numerous flaws that will leave many unsatisfied, yet people who like true stories, especially those who like to read novels based on true events will find something to enjoy in this movie. It is an easy viewing; everything is handed to you on a silver platter and without much thought of your own, and if you do lose track then the over-intrusive score will quickly tell you something vaguely important is going on. The disc is lacklustre, with an average transfer but the picture quality on a film such as this couldn’t have been much better, and the same goes for the sound. Additionally, for £7.99, you can’t go far wrong. For people who like their true stories, but don’t mind their soaps (because this film is like one long one), this is for you.