The Town Bully
In the small Missouri town of Darby lived Len Rowan (Brian Dennehy - Presumed Innocent) and his family although the rest of the town most likely wished he lived elsewhere. You see the Rowan family under Len's guidance were a rule unto themselves; stealing, harassing, bullying, intimidating and doing what ever they liked and getting away with it. When a shop assistant makes a comment about one of the Rowan children it leads to a whole world of hurt for shop owner Ruth Westerman (Cloris Leachman - Fine Things) as the family start harassing her and her husband Wes (John Anderson). When things escalate and Wes is seriously hurt it leads to Len's arrest and trial but yet again he manages to get off leading to the town to take matters into their own hands.
"In Broad Daylight" is one of those TV movies from the 90s which is based on a true story but changes the names for legal reasons. The true story in question is that of Ken McElroy who was also known as The Town Bully and the true story can be found online. But that leaves me conflicted as to really review "In Broad Daylight" would require me to tell you how it plays out yet I am sure there are many who have never heard of the true story and would hate to spoil it for them.
So with that in mind we see how after a minor incident where a shop assistant mentioned that one of the Rowan children was stealing sweets everything kicks off. Firstly we see things getting heated when the child's mother rips into Ruth Westerman of accusing her child of being a thief and then we see how the Rowan family start stalking Mrs Westerman, slow driving past the Westerman home at night and then sitting outside the shop and intimidating Mrs Westerman. In a surprisingly minimal way it is powerful stuff and this campaign of hate builds and builds making us feel for Ruth Westerman.
What is interesting is that whilst we witness this campaign of hate we also become privy to the collective feeling of the town's folk who are tired of the Rowan reign of terror but feel just as intimidated by him. We see how eventually the fear instilled in to them leads to revolt especially when the Rowan's set about intimidating anyone who helps the Westerman family.
Now what makes this movie is firstly Brian Dennehy who in this sort of form is terrifying. The slow, uncompromising way he stares people down and that heavy build he had during the 90s makes for the sort of person you don't want to meet in the street let alone down a dark alley late at night. But director James Steve Sadwith capitalizes on Dennehy and builds the threatening atmosphere around him to such a point that it is unsettling. But the interesting aspect is that Dennehy doesn't just play him as evil, he also plays him as a family man looking after his own which doesn't make him a character we can sympathise with but one with layers.
We also have Marcia Gay Harden as Rowan's wife Adina and she brings the fire to her character, a real screamer who is just as frightening as her husband but in a more upfront way. In fact all of the performances in "In Broad Daylight" are very good and much better than you tend to see in more recent made for TV movies.
What this all boils down to is that "In Broad Daylight" is one of those TV movies from the 90s which not only still stands up but still gets you gripped thanks to Brian Dennehy's intimidating performance and a director who feeds off of it to create an air of fear.