This expertly produced case-file drama takes great pains to explain militia mania in America's heartland. However, this entry in the NBC network series of IN THE LINE OF DUTY TV movies errs by failing to balance its documentary and dramatic aspects.
After a long sentence in Leavenworth for tax evasion, farmer Gordon Kahl (Rod Steiger) shuns his wife after she saves their land with a loan from her brother. A racist and a separatist, Kahl gains the attention of his struggling neighbors with his inflammatory speeches about a US government
banking conspiracy to gobble up family farms. As Kahl's followers swell and begin to stockpile weapons, North Dakota law enforcers report his activities to the FBI, which is slow to appreciate the range of Kahl's insurrection. When federal agents try to persuade Kahl to lay down his arms, he
forces a stand-off in which people on both sides are killed.
FBI agent Mayberly (Michael Gross) joins the investigation. Although the FBI arrests some of his associates, Kahl slips away via a national chain of supporters. Soothing the locals who support Kahl, Mayberly tracks the fugitive to an Arkansas safe house. Outnumbered but unflinching, Kahl takes out
another agent before being incinerated in the tear-gassed house. His martyrdom and the FBI's take-no-prisoners attitude pave the way for future massacres stemming from the anti-centralism controversy.
Grimly determined to stick to the facts, this true-life tale grips viewers with its headline immediacy. But that same documentary-like quality also keeps the film from evoking much of an emotional reaction. In one of his better recent performances, Rod Steiger economically limns the icy Kahl, a
man about to implode from his own rigidity. If the rest of this dry-as-dust film had approached Steiger's eerie concentration, it could have been a modern horror film in which the good guys' bungling empowers a monster of their own making. But this procedural drama doesn't indemnify the FBI
against their miscalculations and arrogances. Likewise, had the supporting characters been fleshed out, this saga of troubled mid-westerners looking for a quick fix to their problems might have bordered on the tragic. But everyone, good and bad, is reduced to a prop in the wake of Steiger's tour
de force. Ultimately, this glimpse at neo-patriotism delivers little more than did the original newspaper reports of Kahl's lunatic fringe activities. (Graphic violence, profanity, adult situations.)
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- Released: 1991
- Rating: R
- Review: This expertly produced case-file drama takes great pains to explain militia mania in America's heartland. However, this entry in the NBC network series of IN THE LINE OF DUTY TV movies errs by failing to balance its documentary and dramatic aspects. After… (more)