How you feel about Prosecuting Casey Anthony — whether you even choose to watch it — likely depends on how much time you spent watching the actual prosecution of Anthony, the young Florida woman acquitted of murdering her toddler daughter Caylee despite the sordid details of the case that held the nation in its thrall.
Though the Lifetime film, which premieres Saturday night at 8, is culled from Florida prosecutor Jeff Ashton’s memoir Imperfect Justice: Prosecuting Casey Anthony, much of it feels like a retread of the endless footage that permeated television from the announcement of Caylee’s disappearance on July 15, 2008, until the not-guilty verdict was rendered on July 5, 2011.
If you’re willing to relive that, the film does provide some compelling insight into the thought processes of the prosecutors, how Ashton’s personal belief system may have cost him the win, and, most critically, Ashton’s take on how defense attorney Jose Baez [Oscar Nuñez] undermined his and lead counsel Linda Burdick’s [Elizabeth Mitchell] seemingly unimpeachable forensic evidence.
A major hurdle in being able to wholly invest in the film, however, could be in looking past the physical differences between the actors and the key players in the case. Perhaps it shouldn’t matter, but in this case it does — because those faces and voices were a daily part of the news and talk show cycle for years and so key in forming our impressions of who these people were.
Though Ashton at the time was only five years older than Rob Lowe, who plays him in the film, Lowe’s dark hair and unmistakable face render him suspect not just as Ashton, but as anyone who had spent 30 years in a courtroom. He does good work in conveying the attorney’s genuine emotional investment in the case and his noble — if ultimately misguided — willingness to put ironclad faith in the experts, authority figures and forensic evidence he believes in. The bemused dismissal of Baez as an overeager, under-qualified newbie is there, too. But in the end, this is Rob Lowe I’m looking at. Not Jeff Ashton.
Luck’s Kevin Dunn gets a good tan and white hair to play Casey’s father George Anthony, but his hefty, hangdog George comes off as a blue-collar working stiff straight outta Brooklyn rather than the super-fit former cop whose intensity in front of the cameras and the courtroom could lend suspiciousness to his words.
The closest match between actor and actual belongs to relative newcomer Virginia Welch as Casey, though she has little to do in the film but sit at the defense table and make faces, look stoic or cry.
Still, there is plenty here to chew on.
Having chunks of Baez’ and Burdick’s arguments presented side-by-side is a solid way to demonstrate how identical details, circumstances and timelines could be interpreted in vastly different ways. And Baez’ near-masterful use of withdrawn — but not forgotten — statements to impact the jury is downright alarming.
The film also weaves in snippets of the case’s coverage by HLN talking heads Nancy Grace and Jane Velez Mitchell to demonstrate that they weren’t just grand marshals for the parade of millions who believe irrefutably that Casey is a monster, but they actually impinged on the case by releasing details of some of Ashton’s most crucial evidence before a jury pool could even be assembled.
And it highlights the celebrity nature of the trial that even seduced Ashton into posing for pictures, signing autographs for folks who’d made a vacation of a trip to the courthouse, and accepting a round of applause as he entered the courtroom for the rendering of the verdict.
Ultimately Prosecuting Casey Anthony seems to be not so much about the accuracy of the verdict, but about Ashton’s eventual understanding and acceptance that Baez better adapted to a trial that began in the media long before either man — or any jury member — ever set foot in the courtroom.
And whether we — the ones with the TV remotes in our hands — can understand and accept that, too.
Prosecuting Casey Anthony premieres Saturday, Jan. 19, at 8pm ET/PT on Lifetime.
Photos: ©2011 by Allen Fraser