Dennehy Does it Again
After his wife passes away from cancer, lawyer Paul Madriani (Brian Dennehy) not only throws himself in to looking after their young daughter but also work which sees him working on a custody settlement for his sister-in-law Laurel (Patricia Richardson) over her son Danny with her ex-husband, Senator Jack Vega (Richard Masur). But when the Senator's new wife is found murdered it is Laurel who is arrested on suspicion of murder after evidence points to her involvement. As Paul starts investigating with some help from long time friend U.S. Attorney Dana Colby (Jean Smart) things don't add up as neighbours disappear and Paul finds himself dealing with what appears to be attempts on his life. But he discovers that Vega has various enemies who could have killed his wife.
Have you ever stopped to watch Brian Dennehy act? Sounds a bit of a strange question especially in relation to the TV movies which he made in the 90s when so many of the characters he played seemed the same but it is worth doing. You see Dennehy delivers dialogue in such a way and accompanies that dialogue with facial expressions and little mannerisms that it doesn't feel like he's acting. Maybe it's because he played that similar character over and over again that it all became second nature or maybe it's because Dennehy, like John Wayne, was often just being himself but which ever it is it works. And it works in "Undue Influence" because it is Brian Dennehy's consistent and natural performance which draws you in to both his character and the unfolding storyline.
Now of course Brian Dennehy is not the only actor in this movie and there is Jean Smart who in a similar way to Dennehy had a character type which she often played in the 90s and like with Dennehy she has her fans who will be captivated by her in this. But more importantly Dennehy and Smart work well together, delivering some chemistry but more importantly making for a likeable pairing. In fact this is a movie full of likeable characters and performances with Patricia Richardson easy to sympathize with due to her familiar on screen persona.
Beyond the casting and acting there is the storyline and as "Undue Influence" is really a two part mini-series what you get is a normal TV movie story but one which is more elaborate with a bit more meat on the bones when it comes to subplots. So whilst the central storyline sees divorce lawyer Paul Madriani in over his head as he tries to clear his sister on a murder charge there are subplots such as Paul's daughter being a little unsure when he goes out for meals with Dana. There is also the custody battle surrounding Danny but also plenty of mystery when it comes to the murder as lots of bits of evidence is presented to us piece by piece until of course after much ramping up of the drama all the pieces are finally in place.
What this all boils down to is that despite its 3 hour running length Undue Influence (1996) is just a typical 90s made for TV thriller. And that means for fans of Brian Dennehy 3 hours of Dennehy doing what he does best.