The Paul Keller Story

Neil Patrick Harris in Not Our Son (1995)

With Seattle dealing with a serial arsonist the police slowly close in on Paul Keller (Neil Patrick Harris) who despite appearing to be a mild mannered church goer is their number one suspect. His family can't believe that their son who works in the family advertising business could be behind a series of fires which caused several deaths. But soon the facts and doubts start to build up leaving the family with a tough decision especially his father to make.

So here we are again in true story territory with a 1995 TV movie based on the capture of serial arsonist Paul Keller. Now unsurprisingly seeing I am a Brit living in the UK I have never heard of Paul Keller or the series of devastating fires which he started but like many people I have heard of Neil Patrick Harris who is a huge draw. Anyway what you end up with in "Not Our Son" is an interesting dramatization of what happened, who Paul Keller was and the difficult situation which his family found them selves in.

Gerald McRaney in Not Our Son (1995)

So what does that mean well the first part of "Not Our Son" sets about establishing the character of Paul Keller. We learn that he has had a difficult time, his wife left him, he was declared bankrupt and as we see that whilst he seems a little unsure of himself has the ability to snap in the blink of an eye as if he is carrying some sort of chip on his shoulder. Now what it doesn't do is tell us that Keller is the arsonist, trying to keep some mystery as to who the arsonist is but it is plainly obvious through suggestion that it is Keller even if you are unaware of the story as it drops scenes in such as Paul's love of collecting things to do with the fire service.

This introduction to Paul builds in to how the cops narrow things down to target Paul such as a witness spotting a white car at the crime scene. How much truth there is to this I do not know but it is an effective if not remarkable police section which then builds into the family dilemma over their own doubts about Paul and whether or not to work with the police when the evidence against Paul builds up. All of which makes for an interesting TV movie dramatization but one which for the most feels routine and forgettable.

What does stand out though is the young Neil Patrick Harris who whilst at times not entirely subtle brings to life the character of being mild mannered but also full of rage. And Harris has good support especially from Gerald McRaney who plays the conflicted father who fears what Paul is capable of and desperate that it isn't his son behind it all.

What this all boils down to is that "Not Our Son" is an interesting but typical made for TV movie from the 90s bolstered by its familiar cast.

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