Movie starts a couple of years ago (subtitle July 2006), with a seemingly routine traffic stop in the small town of Pelican Bay on an otherwise slow Friday night. The police chief, Eddie Frankum (I’m seeing Jeff Daniels, who has a passing resemblance to the real Frankum) pulls over a young married couple who are out having fun. Seems routine, but the mood and music are ominous. Something important is about to happen. “Please step out of the car,” the chief tells the slightly ditzy, possibly intoxicated woman (Audrina from The Hills? A screenwriter can dream). And as she does, cut to title screen and opening credits. Working title: um, still working on it.
Next scene, present day. The establishment shot of Pelican Bay has political yard signs everywhere, in equal measure, for Frankum and incumbent David Byrnes (sure, why not cast David Byrne; a twist on his True Stories performance would do well here). Through coffee shop conversations and scenes from the local paper’s newsroom, we get the exposition of recent events: Frankum resigned as chief under a bit of scandal about an impound lot he started. But he still has his supporters, like the current Mayor Sandy Tolbert (Beau Bridges? Hmm.) in the upcoming election. But there’s a new scandal, with sexual undertones. At the end of the first act, Frankum is arrested, the culmination of an investigation into that fateful Friday night when the then-police chief asked the young, tipsy girl to get out of the car.
Cut to courtroom scenes, where the assistant district attorney Miles Brisette (Shia LaBeouf) is eager to prove his legal chops. He’s nervous, but the kid’s going to prove he can do it. During the trial proceedings and witness accounts we see two versions of the events that followed: one, which led to the arrest, where he groped the suspect. The other, a more innocent encounter, where the girl made up a story to get out of getting her husband in trouble for having some funny cigarettes. Defense lawyers argue that the charges are politically motivated, an attempt to tarnish Frankum’s reputation and ruin his chances in the primary. Prosecutors claim abuse of power. Classic courtroom drama fare.
Mix in a love interest between the newspaper reporter and Audrina, as he begs her to come clean with the story and admit to herself she doesn’t love her husband. Mix in a lonely woman who claims Frankum also frisked her in February of that year (truth? or just wanting attention?). Also, there’s the One False Move element of small-town police alternately competing and cooperating with the Texas Rangers. Oh, and maybe the judge is trying his last case before retiring. He’s hardened and wizened and tired of political games; he just wants Justice with a capital J. (Tommy Lee Jones, if he’s not yet overexposed.)
How does it end? I don’t know. The primary isn’t until March 4. But whatever the real-life results, the movie has promise, I tellya. (Note to DHS: Does this count as a treatment?)