Indictment: The Mcmartin Trial

  • 1995
  • Movie
  • R
  • Crime, Docudrama, Drama

One of the most searing films ever made for television, INDICTMENT recounts the real-life McMartin child abuse case and subtextually parallels the day care scandal with other major witch hunts throughout American history. As the shocking charges against the McMartin Day Care Center owners and teachers roll in, rational disbelief and benefits-of-the-doubt...read more

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One of the most searing films ever made for television, INDICTMENT recounts the real-life McMartin child abuse case and subtextually parallels the day care scandal with other major witch hunts throughout American history.

As the shocking charges against the McMartin Day Care Center owners and teachers roll in, rational disbelief and benefits-of-the-doubt are mowed down by a media frenzy. Railroaded by careerist prosecutors led by Lael Rubin (Mercedes Ruehl), and convicted by the press before the trial even begins,

the falsely charged include grandmother Virginia McMartin (Sada Thompson), daughter Peggy Buckey (Shirley Knight), grandson Raymond Buckey (Henry Thomas), granddaughter Peggy Ann Buckey (Alison Elliott), and several part-time instructors. Despite his wife's disapproval, naturally combative

advocate Danny Davis (James Woods) stops defending drug lords in order to challenge an out-of-control judicial bandwagon. What begins as a grandstanding attempt to get high on controversy ends up resurrecting Davis's soul as he becomes convinced of his unpopular clients' innocence. Bolstered by

public opinion, a poorly researched prosecution case proceeds despite misgivings by key players like Glenn Stevens (Joe Urla). Winning, not justice, is all that counts, even though the initial accusation came from Judy Johnson (Roberta Bassin), an alcoholic schizophrenic whose child was actually

being molested by her estranged husband. Fueling parental outrage toward the McMartins is the manipulated testimony of the children, whose finger-pointing is orchestrated by an untrained social worker, Kee MacFarlane (Lolita Davidovich), who further compromises her integrity by sleeping with a

media hound covering the case. Davis delves deeply enough to realize the alleged events couldn't really have occurred, the children direct wilder and wilder charges against the sheriff's department and townspeople, and the trumped-up prosecution case begins to crumble. Unfortunately, the

unraveling of the McMartin miscarriage of justice (which in Raymond Buckey's case lasted 5 years), occurs too late to save the reputations and careers of the accused. Demonstrating that Rubin's case is a tapestry of conjecture and unsubstantiated accusations, and ripping apart inconsistencies in

MacFarlane's methodology, Davis succeeds in achieving the Pyrrhic victory of a hung jury for Raymond. Although the legal nightmare ends, the aftershocks of the blanket condemnation of the McMartin day care workers continue to this day.

The indicted McMartin family and their employees were not the only victims of the wave of child abuse hysteria that swept America in the 80s. While there may never be an explanation for what triggered the witch hunts, the lessons are not edifying for zealous prosecutors, sensation-seeking crime

addicts, or irresponsible journalists. Compressing a wealth of material that could have been spun out to major miniseries length, INDICTMENT's lynching-by-media scenario (recalling the Lindy Chamberlain case, filmed in 1988 as CRY IN THE DARK) skillfully turns the tables on the tabloid-debased

media, incorporating shots of camera equipment and anonymous reporters into the weave of the film. In a controlled cinematic manner unusual in standard TV problem drama, INDICTMENT employs multiple camera angles and mesmerizing extreme closeups in the courtroom sequences, and makes the jaundiced

perspective of the TV newsman an integal part of the travesty being depicted. In one dazzling scene, Raymond and Peggy Ann are permitted to view the bizarre, videotaped ramblings of their former charges, the film cutting back abruptly to long-shots so that the snippets of testimony ring hollow in

an impersonal courtroom. Rewarded with a richly deserved Emmy as 1995's best made-for-TV movie, this combustible courtroom psychodrama is an unsparingly written horror film about people sacrificed to the hidden agendas and political ambitions of others. INDICTMENT's innovative direction and

expertly constructed teleplay are complemented by a superlative ensemble, headed by a patently focused Woods as a hack attorney redeemed by his unflagging stand against hypocrisy and Emmy Best Supporting Actress winner Shirley Knight, who gives a crystalline performance as a woman overwhelmed,

unable to even comprehend what's happening to her and her family. (Violence, profanity, nudity, adult situations, sexual situations.)

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  • Released: 1995
  • Rating: R
  • Review: One of the most searing films ever made for television, INDICTMENT recounts the real-life McMartin child abuse case and subtextually parallels the day care scandal with other major witch hunts throughout American history. As the shocking charges against t… (more)

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