Why bother renting something that just played on TV four months ago? Because it’s so good that it deserves to be seen again — or for the first time, if you missed this unusually sophisticated made-for-cable drama. Pete Dexter adapted his own prize-winning novel — a study of the Deep South’s heart of darkness, set in 1949 Georgia — and director Stephen Gyllenhaal drew out the book’s creepiness and rising sense of dread. Gripping it may be, but Paris Trout is — viewer beware — altogether depressing.
Dennis Hopper stars as Trout, the mean-spirited racist who sees nothing wrong with shooting a black mother and daughter; Barbara Hershey portrays the wife under his tyranny who can never completely detach from him; and Ed Harris plays the defense attorney who must wrestle with his conscience. The film is a little too fussy visually, with too many auras in the lighting and too much pastel haziness. And it fails to avoid much of the self-consciousness that pervaded the novel. But in Hopper’s alternately restrained and raging peformance is everything that once was, and sometimes still is, truly frightening in this country. B+