by Del Harvey
On January 17 1989, head of corrections for the state of Oregon Michael Francke was stabbed in the heart outside the Corrections Department Headquarters in Salem. When brother Kevin hears of Michael’s death, he travels from Florida to Oregon intent on finding the truth.
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In 1989, Michael Franke’s slaying was one of America’s most sensational murders cases. Even before the case hit the courtroom, it had hatched several conspiracy theories and garnered speculation that Francke was killed because he was preparing to rule on corruption in the Corrections Department. Francke’s family was told to stop asking questions and important evidence was ignored or censored during the investigation. That much we know is true, and is the basis for this film, co-written by director Gil Dennis (I Walk The Line, On My Own) and first-time screenwriter Phil Stanford.
I’ve read several reviews of Without Evidence, and most dismiss the film as “plotless,” “dragging,” or “a waste of time.” I found this film to be none of those. I was drawn into the film about 10 minutes in and hung tight until the closing credits.
If anything, this film feels like a contemporary film noir in many respects. The loss of his brother compels Kevin (Scott Plank—Holes, TV’s Melrose Place) to seek out justice, and tension builds when it seems the wheels of justice turn against their very raison d’etre. But still he continues on, at first his only assistance coming from local newsman John Nelson (Andrew Prine—Gods and Generals, Sweet Home Alabama). A natural seeker of truth, if not a juicy story, Nelson sniffs around and discovers a foul odor rising up from the investigation, and goes so far as to allow Kevin to sleep in his office at first. Besides the fact that this ensures Nelson will get any scoop to come, it also provides time for the two to grow on each other. As their investigation digs deeper, and unearths numerous inconsistencies with the police’s own wandering actions, Kevin meets a reluctant witness named Liz (Anna Gunn—Lost Souls, Enemy of the State), and soon gets involved with her. Another witness to turn up is the tormented Jodie (Angelina Jolie), middle-class white trash who knows the truth and is just about to be devoured by the weight of it.
I won’t give away the ending, but I will tell you that this is a taut low-budget film that’s big on story and premise in spite of its lack of high caliber production values. If you prefer the mindless action and special effects of films like Tomb Raider, XXX, or The Fast and The Furious, then do not pick up this DVD. You can console yourself by reading the reviews of those other critics who dismissed this film, undoubtedly because they wouldn’t know a story without huge explosions if they saw it. If, on the other hand, you like a character driven bio-pic, then check out Without Evidence. It is a cut above.
One more comment; the DVD’s features include information on how viewers can collect a $1 million reward for information that will lead to the real-life capture and prosecution of Michael Francke’s killer(s).
Del Harvey is a writer and the founder of Film Monthly. He is also a devout Chicago Bears fan, loves Grant Park in any season, and recently taught screenwriting at Columbia College Chicago.
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