Germany, US, South Africa / 90 minutes / color / ApolloMedia Filmproduktion, MPCA, MPCE. Dir: Evelyn Maude Purcell Pr: Adam Richman, David Lancaster, Brad Krevoy, Frank Hübner Scr: David Loucka Cine: Michael Brierley Cast: Gina Gershon, Michael Biehn, Sean Patrick Flanery, Rae Allen, Eddie Driscoll, Jon Huertas, Natasha Napoli, Daniela Napoli, Nick Boraine, Caitlin Frewen, Jennifer Steyn, Carolyn Balogh, Debbie Brown, Christopher Johnston, Millard Arnold, Louise Barnes, Danny Keogh, Angela Nemov, Andrew Brent.
Ex-alcoholic criminal psychiatrist Lila “Dr. C” Coletti (Gershon) is being divorced by wealthy husband Paul (Boraine), now living with his girlfriend Jenny Kemp (Balogh); the only remaining issue is who gets custody of the children: Rebecca (Natasha Napoli) and her kid sister Sarah (Daniela Napoli). In court, the fact that Lila keeps irregular hours at the prison where she works, often being called late at night to deal with emergencies, is held against her, as is the fact that she hired one of her ex-patients, Ciro Ruiz (Huertas), to help do up the house she moved to with the kids after separating from Paul.
A gloating Paul (Nick Boraine) comes to fetch the kids.
To her horror, Judge Thornquist (Brent) rules in favor of Paul, who promptly turns up at Lila’s home and takes the kids away. Lila straightway goes out to a local boozeteria, where Ciro spots her, joins her, sympathizes offer the loss of the kids, and tells her he knows what he would do if he were in her place. Lila, having a lapse from abstinence and having also popped a few tranks from prison supplies, tells him not to be so foolish and gets home somehow.
In the bar Ciro (Jon Huertas) tells Lila how he’d react to the “theft” of the kids.
Lila (Gina Gershon), having had a few, listens intently.
That night someone breaks into Paul’s house and, after ushering the kids into a back room, murders Paul and then rapes and murders Jenny.
The crime is investigated by Detectives Macy Kobacek (Biehn) and Frank Hagen (Driscoll). As we soon discover, Macy is Lila’s lover—having become so after the separation, we assume, although this is never made explicit. Nor is it spelled out to us why Macy doesn’t simply recuse himself from the case; much later on there’s a confused explanation about him wanting to stay on it to safeguard her interests, but any cop would know that corrupting a case this way could only be against Lila’s interests.
Detective Macy Kobacek (Michael Biehn) starts the investigation.
Lila, on being told the basic details of the crime, immediately gives some further ones: the rape was done with a bottle, the rapist made-up the victim’s face beforehand. She recognizes the m.o. as that of a recently released ex-patient of hers, Ed Baikman (Flanery), who served twenty years for having murdered in childhood the father who was abusing him and having raped his mother with a bottle.
Ed Baikman (Sean Patrick Flanery) can be charming when he needs to be . . .
However, more and more evidence starts to build up against Lila herself as the killer. She has motive a-plenty. Not only has she now got her kids back, it proves that Paul hadn’t got round to altering his will, so she inherits his wealth. A scrap of an old shirt she wears is found on the barbed wire around Paul’s home. Ed has an alibi from the sister with whom he lives, seventy miles away, Carla (Brown). And Lila herself isn’t 100% sure she’s innocent: after she said farewell to Ciro that night outside the bar, she has no recollection of the next couple of hours. She believes she drove straight home but, in true noir fashion, is completely amnesiac about the relevant period.
Ed’s sister Carla (Debbie Brown), seen here with dog Rocky, is Ed’s important alibi.
Hagen is certain of her guilt. Macy, for obvious reasons, does his best to cool Hagen’s zeal, not just by ethically pointing out other possibilities but also by doing his share of covering up. Ed, meanwhile, is endeavoring to make sure that everyone believes he and Lila are in a relationship, and have been for some while—after all, how else could he know so much about her? That problem is to a great extent answered when, with Lila’s help, her colleague and psychiatrist Alma Burke (Allen) discovers evidence that Ed likely broke into her (Alma’s) office, jimmied a drawer and read Lila’s records.
Lila (Gina Gershon) accuses Macy (Michael Biehn) of spying on her.
It’s very clear that Ed is infatuated with Lila. Could he have delusionally believed that she instructed him to commit the murders? Is it possible she in fact did instruct him to commit the murders? But then why is it that, even as he insists to everyone, including Lila herself, that she’s deeply involved with him, his behavior is such as to incriminate her? Even Macy has his doubts, especially when he discovers that Lila, despite having earlier professed ignorance of Paul’s will, in fact has a copy of it. When the murder weapon, a knife from Lila’s kitchen, is discovered hidden at the back of Lila’s fridge, bearing just Ciro’s fingerprints and her own, even Macy has to capitulate, and he himself arrests her.
Ed (Sean Patrick Flanery) reacts with sudden violence to Lila (Gina Gershon).
Rebecca (Natasha Napoli, left) and Sarah (Daniela Napoli) watch the attack on their mom.
There’s a major plot glitch here. Lila is by every estimation a highly intelligent individual. What cop could be dumb enough to believe that she could be dumb enough to hide the murder weapon at the back of her fridge? Well, okay, in the past few years we’ve witnessed a few cops who could indeed be this dumb. But Hagen and Macy are obviously pretty bright detectives.
This plot point features something else that might to non-US watchers seem like a hiccup: Macy arrests and handcuffs Lila at her place of work, thereby humiliating a possibly innocent suspect and potentially doing great harm to the therapy of those of her patients who witness the arrest. In the US, however, this sort of cop behavior is standard practice.
The discovery in an abandoned car of Ciro’s corpse has made things look even worse for Lila, especially when it’s established that the cause of death was injection of a cocktail of drugs that Lila might easily have gotten from prison supplies but that would have been hard for anyone else to obtain. Hagen’s new hypothesis is that Lila manipulated Ciro into using the m.o. of Ed while murdering Paul and Jenny, then manipulated Ed into murdering Ciro.
Ed (Sean Patrick Flanery) faces up to Macy (Michael Biehn).
Lila’s lawyer, Andy Reed (Johnston), brings in a hotshot legal eagle, Harry Walker (Keogh), whose advice is that she plead diminished responsibility. Pointing out that this would mean she might never see her kids again, she sacks him on the spot. She also arranges for Andy to raise bail through the sale of Paul’s house, which is now hers (I’m uncertain of the law in such instances, but I raised an eyebrow here), and once out of jail tries to sort things out. She warns off the new therapist Ed has found himself, Karen Kendler (Barnes), and then she and Macy set a trap so that Ed can be maneuvered into incriminating himself . . .
Harry Walker (Danny Keogh) tries to persuade Lila of the “realistic” approach—plead insanity and spend the rest of your life behind bars for a crime you didn’t commit.
I’ve deliberately missed out quite a few of the plot elements in the above synopsis. Also, although I’ve mentioned a couple, I’ve not focused too much on evident plot flaws—such as the fact that that discovery of a torn piece of Lila’s shirt on the barbed wire is later forgotten. This is, after all, the kind of oopsy you expect to find in TV movies . . . except that, in so many other ways, this doesn’t feel like a TV movie at all. There’s the cast, for one thing, not just Biehn and Flanery but, most significantly of all, Gershon. It’s fascinating to watch her in a far different role from what we’ve come to expect of her—loud-mouthed, brassy, sexually overt. Here she’s playing a warm, intelligent woman, a devoted mother and a highly esteemed professional. This isn’t to say that she’s not red-hot in typically Gershon fashion when she needs to be: there’s a sex scene that, while in a sense really quite demure, may, depending upon the gender identity of your TV set, blast the back out of it.
Alma (Rae Allen) spells out a few home truths to Macy (Michael Biehn).
With its constant twists and turns of perception, its amnesia component, the bad dreams that we witness (and that Ed at one point claims are shared by Lila and himself) and most of all with its final delicious ambiguity—I still don’t know for certain who killed Paul and Jenny—this seems to belong in the school more of classic noir than of its neonoir descendant. For me, this is no bad thing. I came away from the movie with a smile of admiration.
On Amazon.com: Borderline [DVD]