Court Film Guilty of Jail Clichés


Guilt by Association, Court TV's first original movie, attacks the justice of mandatory minimum sentences imposed upon drug offenders.

The movie makes the point that the sentences — adopted in 1986, as part of the war on drugs — have put a number of innocent family members in prison, too. Mothers, wives and sisters are serving lengthy jail sentences for owning the home where a dealer lived, or answering a son's phone call. Unfortunately, what could have been a cracking social and legal thriller gets severely bogged down about halfway through, as it devolves into a jailhouse flick.

The film focuses on Susan Walker (Mercedes Ruehl), a widow with two children who thinks she's "crazy lucky" to find a handsome suitor. Russell (Alex Carter) lavishes love and financial help on the family, and Susan seems none too interested in the source of Russell's largesse.

She catches on and chides him about his personal drug habit, but stays with him until she stumbles across him engaged in an actual transaction. Then, for the sake of her kids, she pulls the plug on the relationship.

A month later, Drug Enforcement Agency officials arrive, arresting her and seizing her house and car. That's when Walker learns about minimum sentencing, from a snarling cliché of a prosecutor. Give up information on the dealers or go to jail for a long time, he says gleefully. He'd be twirling a mustache, too, if makeup had outfitted him with one.

Since Walker wasn't part of the conspiracy — and thus has nothing to give — she's uncooperative, and from the government's perspective, lacking in remorse. She's sentenced to 20 years in prison, even more jail time than the pot cultivator must serve.

Those events, however, comprise the first 35 minutes of the movie. From there, Walker goes to prison and you feel like you're serving with her — and in real time. You don't learn until late in the film that most of the inmates in her ward are also victims of mandatory minimum sentences, including a blind diabetic. That's because none of these characters have been developed.

An organization formed to help the collateral victims of the drug war is introduced too late in the movie to keep us involved.

Then, the film ends just when it could become interesting again. Susan receives a presidential pardon and returns to her weakened family. That continuing collateral damage of the drug war was ripe for an intimate look. Susan's attempts to rebuild her relationship with her kids and sister would have been more compelling than the scenes of predatory lesbians in stir.

Guilt by Association
debuts March 13 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Court TV.