The story of a family forced to flee under the protection
of the federal government after its patriarch runs afoul of his crime bosses, Home Box
Office's latest telefilm, Witness Protection, is an above-average look at
ordinary people in an extraordinary situation.
The story, based on an article in The New York Times
Magazine, begins as Bobby Batton (Tom Sizemore) -- a low-level bookkeeper in an Boston
organized-crime outfit -- finds his home under siege by someone who attempts to kidnap his
five-year-old daughter. Apparently, someone has "ratted him out" to his boss,
and now both he and his family are at risk.
Once the family moves on to a motel, the FBI moves in, also
wanting to get Bobby --specifically for testimony that can bring down his former employer.
He is eventually persuaded that relocation via the government's Witness Protection
Program is better for his family than a life on the run.
The Battons are then moved to a secret government facility,
where U.S. Marshal Steve Beck (Forest Whitaker) is assigned the difficult task of getting
Bobby; his wife, Cynthia (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio); and children Sean and Suzie to
accept the reality of their situation and their new identities. The nondescript government
facility where they go for five days of training becomes an emotional crucible for the
Sean (Shawn Hatosy) is a talented student at an elite
Boston prep school who had been gearing up toward a stint at Harvard University and a life
with his girlfriend, and he blames his father for what he has lost.
Hatosy's depiction of Sean's emotional wrestling
over whether or not to stay with the family -- which includes one explosive confrontation
with his father -- is the film's best performance.
Cynthia also has a difficult time coming to grips with the
situation, particularly when the marshal tells her the family is broke -- information that
had been kept from her by her husband. Mastrantonio does a solid job of depicting
Cynthia's transformation, as she takes a more active and equal role in the family,
almost supplanting her husband at the head of the table.
Sizemore's performance is the film's one
disappointment. Given the most to do of any character except perhaps Cynthia, Sizemore
delivers a mostly listless performance with only a couple of emotional peaks. He goes from
apathy to anger, without showing much range in between.
There are only a few brief glimpses into the
character's struggle with going from criminal tough guy to a man barely in control of
his own family, and Sizemore fails to take advantage of an opportunity there.
Overall, Witness Protection offers a compelling two
hours of intense family drama.
The film premieres on HBO Saturday, Dec. 11, at 8 p.m.