close
close

The film review – Bill Pullman is a master of the kitschy retelling of gruesome crimes – The Irish Times

The crimes of South Carolina lawyer Alex Murdaugh are too lurid to put into words, and a dramatically authentic reenactment of his misdeeds would make them hard to watch. But that's not the approach of Murdaugh Murders: The Movie (out Thursday on Paramount+), a cheesy true-crime film that retells the story with a light touch and originally aired on the featherweight American Lifetime Channel as part of the series Ripped From the Headlines.

The film is remarkably delicious, enhanced by a convincing turn from Bill Pullman, a former Hollywood star who is far too good for the bluster that is a Lifetime trademark. It also offers a succinct overview of Murdaugh's evil deeds, including the murder of his wife and son and a trail of embezzlement that cost clients millions they can never get back.

The action begins on the fateful night of the murder of Maggie Murdaugh (Lauren Robek) and her 22-year-old son Paul (Curtis Tweedie) in June 2021, before flashing back to 2019. At the time, Alex is a leading member of South Carolina's legal high society, having inherited his prestigious firm from his imposing (but disapproving) father – a former district attorney who makes no secret of his disappointment in his offspring.

It quickly becomes clear that Alex is not cut out for the life of a high-flying lawyer and has a hard time staying in the air. He's addicted to prescription painkillers, can't behave around the boorish Paul, and plugs holes in the firm's finances by scamming clients.

Pullman is masterful in his role as a feckless Southern gentleman whose elitist persona masks a glaring moral void. But even though he remains a picture of charm on the outside, there are signs that something is very wrong — both with Murdaugh and his business. Maggie is surprised to discover a bounced check; Paul stumbles upon suspicious pills in his father's office — and then the family's housekeeper (Tanja Dixon-Warren) dies in a mysterious fall, and Alex encourages her family to sue his insurance company for millions in compensation (they'll never see the money).

These were horrific events, and one can only sympathize with Murdaugh's victims. But there's no denying that they make for a fascinating story – the case has spawned several documentaries and books – and this loose adaptation is deeply entertaining despite its lack of dramatic substance.