Step by Step Through a Real Murder
Does the name Michael Peterson mean anything to you? It meant nothing to me until I sat down to watch "The Staircase Murders", a Lifetime movie based on actual events. Those actual events surround the death of Michael's wife, the court case which followed, the fracturing of the family as suspicions arose, a documentary crew following Michael around and a whole lot of secrets. It is fascinating to the point that it seems so far fetched that it couldn't be factual. Yet it is because whilst "The Staircase Murders" is not the greatest movie you will ever watch it will fuel your curiosity to discover the truth, the connections and what happened.
So "The Staircase Murders" starts with Michael's frantic emergency call as he discovers his wife Kathleen lifeless body at the bottom of the stairs. But it immediately spikes are curiosity because we also have this strange sort of documentary interview leading to this and then we discover that the Durham County Police dislike Michael because of accusations he made in an article he wrote in the Durham Herald-Sun. That interview aspect is explained as we learn a small documentary crew are intrigued by the case and Michael allows them to film a fly on the wall look at his life as he prepares to go to court having been accused of murder. And as for the Police not liking Michael, well we learn that a lot more of the local authorities dislike him because of what he had written about them in the past, especially being useless at their jobs.
This leads nicely through to a two part movie where we have the lead up to the court case and then the court case itself with a lot of it being played out in front of these documentary cameras. Now this makes "The Staircase Murders" fascinating because you can see that Michael was a manipulator, he uses those cameras to twist things and get his version of what happened across, whilst making out he is a family man and so on. And then we get some fascinating facts from Michael being bisexual to something having happened in his past to the mother of two children which he became legal guardian to. Plus we also get his step-daughter, Caitlin, going from supportive to believing he killed her mum and being ostracized from the family for suggesting so.
Now I'm sure that sounds very messy because there is a lot going on in "The Staircase Murders" and to get to grips with things is not always that easy. It is a problem as it takes some time to work out who the children are, as in which are Michael's from his first marriage, second marriage or who are the one's he is legal guardian to. But at the same time it is fascinating because we have all these secrets which arise and the whole time Michael comes across as a masterful manipulator who can turn on the emotion in a blink of an eye. You almost see him seeing every moment as an opportunity to look good in front of the cameras.
As such it is fair to say that "The Staircase Murders" rests firmly on the shoulders of Treat Williams as Michael and he takes the weight of the role brilliantly. It's because Williams is so good at playing the fatherly figure that when he becomes forceful, almost to the point of being egotistical, that you begin to question his innocence. Oh there are times when it is too forced, too cocky but on a whole Treat Williams delivers a fascinating character for a fascinating movie aided by Kevin Pollack who is just as intriguing as his non judgemental lawyer, David Rudolf.
On a side note it is worth saying that "The Staircase Murders" sits on the fence, director Tom McLoughlin plays it very even so whilst we get presented with evidence which suggests Michael killed his wife we also get the doubt. And as such when "The Staircase Murders" ends you will either love the fact that what you have watched is dramatization of facts or dislike the fact that sides have not been taken.
What this all boils down to is that "The Staircase Murders" is an intriguing movie, dramatizing a true story in such away it spikes your interest. It's not the greatest movie you will ever see but the strength of the writing, the performance from Treat Williams and the fact that it seems too far fetched to be true will have you wanting to know more about Michael Peterson and the murder of his wife.