Anyone making a TV movie about the McMartin preschool trial — in which teachers were accused of child molestation and which ended in 1990 with no convictions after six years — should be approaching the material with mixed, complicated feelings. Even if you’ve chosen sides, dramatizing the anguish of both the children purported to be victims and the educators purported to be monsters necessitates giving both sides their due. But Indictment: The McMartin Trial, looks and sounds as if it were written with a sledgehammer: It pounds you over the head with the unoriginal notion that the teachers are falsely accused. Abby and Myra Mann have created such a shrill, self-righteous screenplay that a viewer who agrees with their conclusion is almost ashamed for doing so.
The movie sets up the attorney who defended the McMartin teachers as a noble hotshot. He’s played by James Woods with that Woodsian ferocity we know all too well. Much more interesting is Henry Thomas’ performance as Raymond Buckey, one of the accused. Thomas was, of course, little Elliott in E.T. As the adult Buckey, he does a good job of conveying the man’s bitter resentment at the charges leveled against him, and the fear that he’ll be convicted. If you recall the case, you’ll remember that some of the children claimed to have been made to drink animals’ blood and take part in satanic rituals. To make Indictment involving, we should be made to see why those notions were taken seriously, but we don’t. Indictment is so eager to stir up your indignation, it doesn’t bother to present its case with any clarity. D+