A couple of years ago, the feature film Mississippi Burning got a lot of heat for turning the civil rights movement into the noble struggle of two white FBI men, played by Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe. Say what you will about director Alan Parker’s movie, it still had a lot more passion and acting talent than Line of Fire, which is similarly skewed: The TV movie asks us to believe that L.A. Law’s foremost whiner, Corbin Bernsen, could be a heroic battler against the Ku Klux Klan.
Bernsen stars as the real-life Dees, an Alabama prosecutor who has tried to bring to justice various white-supremacist groups that have committed crimes against blacks and Jews. We’re shown Dees’ dogged pursuit of a pair of teenage Klan members who lynch a young black man, Michael Donald (Carl A. Payne II), and we watch as Dees moves beyond individual cases to mount legal attacks on entire organizations such as the KKK in an attempt to put them out of business. Yet the script, by James G. Hirsch and Charles Rosin, is full of hollow portentousness, such as Dees proclaiming, ”My work is who I am.” Then, too, our attention is seriously diverted by the question of whether the hairpiece Bernsen is wearing is modeled after Ray Sharkey’s or that of Knots Landing’s Kevin Dobson. Such distractions cheapen the serious and tragic issues raised by Line of Fire. The result is a facile melodrama that makes racism seem like an easily solved problem. D