American Playhouse: Lethal Innocence

Set in the mid-’80s and based on real events, American Playhouse: Lethal Innocence stars Blair Brown as Sally Hatch, one of the people in a small Vermont town who adopt Cambodian youths escaping the horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime. The film is about the different ways the Cambodians settle in, and how they affect the town. As Sally talks to her adoptee (Vanthy Rath) and others, she learns the extent of the brutality the Cambodian people have suffered, and she’s excoriated for her complacent, liberal-American know-nothingness by the angry United Nations border relief worker (My Left Foot‘s Brenda Fricker) who helped get these Cambodians out of their country.

A carefully made TV movie with a solid cast, Lethal Innocence is at once mawkish and meanspirited. It uses Sally’s naïveté as an excuse for tedious tirades about the cynicisms of war, capitalism, and communism; the movie assumes that we are as innocent of facts and history as Brown’s character and scolds us for it. At the same time, the film wants us to become involved in its terribly sentimental portrayal of Sally’s mother (the great Teresa Wright), who is made to embody a kind of uneducated wisdom. When she befriends one of the Cambodian boys having the most difficulty learning to adjust to America (Vathana Biv), we’re supposed to think that she’s such a pure force of love and understanding that she can triumph over cultural differences and her innate American ignorance — how condescending.

Once you start watching Lethal Innocence, it will probably hold your interest — it’s awfully well acted, under the smooth direction of Helen Whitney (First Love, Fatal Love). But in its own heart, it’s a self-righteous bore. C

American Playhouse: Lethal Innocence
  • TV Show