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The Matthew Shepard Story

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Shane Meier, Sam Waterson, ...
The Matthew Shepard Story: Alliance Atlantis Photo

Dour liberal sentimentalism mars The Matthew Shepard Story, NBC’s well-meaning but assiduously tendentious retelling of the life of gay hate-crime victim Shepard, killed at age 21 in October 1998 in Laramie, Wyo. It stars ”The West Wing”’s Stockard Channing and ”Law & Order”’s Sam Waterston as Shepard’s parents. The telefilm might just as well have been titled ”The Judy Shepard Story,” since her agony, not Matthew’s (played here by Shane Meier), and her choice to have her husband plead against sentencing her son’s killers to death, comprise the movie’s central drama.

The result is a nice little showcase for Channing, if a lesser one for Waterston, who delivers the anti?death-penalty plea in the same high-dudgeon quaver he uses to give summations on ”Law & Order.” It’s all very well intended, as executive-produced by Goldie Hawn and directed by Roger Spottiswoode, who also directed the 1993 HBO adaptation of Randy Shilts’ AIDS investigation ”And the Band Played On.” But ”Story” reduces the young man to a problem of the week, to be mourned and buried after its Saturday-night airing.