Tonight’s premiere on TNT’s Mystery Movie Night is another legal thriller, this one by Richard North Patterson, based upon his Tony Lord novel Silent Witness.
Dermot Mulroney plays the pricey and dangerous criminal defense attorney Tony Lord, who’s called back to the hometown that accused him and set him on the path of his life. After decades away, he only returns to defend his best friend from high school, Sam Robb (Michael Cudlitz), who’s been accused of killing a student at the high school where he’s a principal and coach. Saul Rubin (Judd Hirsch) plays the local attorney who defended Tony back in high school, when he was accused of murdering his teenage girlfriend, just like Sam is now.
From the author panel, Richard North Patterson explains—and he has a wonderfully stentorian voice—how a tiny town with a famously tragic past inspired this rather different story.
If you read the book, you know that huge chunks of it happen in Tony’s past, and I’m interested to see how much flashback we’ll see in the movie. Tony’s old defender Saul Rubin will assist him as local counsel in the present case against Sam. And because there isn’t as much story without it, of course, the further Tony digs into Sam’s case, the more he learns about his own and how the town’s judgment still weighs on him.
As you also might imagine, being arrested for killing a teenage girl whom he coached and slept with puts stress on Sam’s marriage, placing Tony awkwardly between him and his hurt wife, another old friend whose understanding of what Tony went through and who he used to be is only second to Sam’s. To try to save Sam, Tony will use every trick he’s learned and will hate himself for it. He will hate himself for lots of things.
At the author panel, Richard North Patterson said when he first saw Dermot Mulroney as Tony Lord, he was like, “Who is this guy?” The man in front of him wasn’t recognizable as his internal picture. But after about 10 minutes, the author said, he was engaged and impressed, and thought the casting was great top to bottom. Based on reading the novel, Michael Cudlitz, however, looks exactly like I’d picture Sam Robb.
As you know if you’re a fan already, Richard North Patterson’s novels incorporate a lot of topical information and research, and there’s a lot of foundational detail in them. But, as we learned at the panel, he uses the same concrete groundwork to create his characters, too:
In Tony Lord’s case, for example, here is someone who is a lawyer—supposedly disapassionate—yet he cannot help to some degree confusing his own difficulties in the past with such a situation with the empathy that he feels for his client now. And he has to wonder whether that affects his judgment. Very often, when I try to build a character, I actually go to a psychiatrist, psychologist—people I know—and say, “If you assume this background, this childhood, and this event, what would the likely range of reactions be?” And then we sort of free associate, so that I feel like I’ve built a character from the inside, and then they start to behave in a way they should, which in turn, influences and enriches the story.
If you’d like to see a longer sneak peek from Silent Witness, check it out here at TNT. Me? I like Dermot Mulroney’s scowl, and this story zigged and zagged on the page, so I’m interested to see how it’s adapted for a more linear medium.
But I’ll close with a clip about the most prestigious research trip I can possibly imagine, which occurred when the author was “war gaming” a different scenario about rigging the selection of a Supreme Court Justice. When the White House called to see if he had time to meet and discuss it, because then-President Clinton was a fan and read his novels, the author allowed as how he did think he might spare a moment.
Are you a fan of legal thrillers, too, or this one in particular? Will you be sparing a moment for Silent Witness tonight?
Clare Toohey is Clare2e here at CriminalElement.com and also blogs sporadically at Women of Mystery. She recently had a short, surreal crime story appear in Murder New York Style: Fresh Slices. She thinks by the time you end up in court, even if you prevail, a lot has already been lost.