Mark Fuhrman’s book becomes a strange, only-half-bad TV movie.

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The crime
On Halloween morning 1975, the body of 15-year-old Martha Moxley was found under a tree on her parents’ property; a golf club was also found nearby, and Moxley — known to friends as “Mox” — had evidently been beaten and stabbed with it. Despite the disarray of her clothing, Moxley had not been sexually assaulted.

The murder is a tragedy, but might have remained an obscure one if Moxley hadn’t last been seen alive at a Mischief-Night gathering at the Skakels’, just down the block. Rushton Skakel, the head of the household, is of course Ethel Skakel Kennedy’s brother. On top of that, police couldn’t settle on a suspect. It’s Tommy Skakel, one of Rushton’s seven barely supervised party-hearty children. …Wait! It’s the tutor, who in the words of my grandmother is “not quite right.” …No, it’s Tommy, who had a little thing with Moxley! …No no no, it’s Michael Skakel, who admits to perching in a tree near Moxley’s house to masturbate. (One of the more pitiably memorable details of the case, and if behavioral science had been better codified back then, it might have raised the red flag it probably should have.) …Pardon us; it’s maybe a drifter (detective code for “we have no goddamn idea who did it and DNA testing hasn’t been invented yet”).

The case remained unsolved for over 25 years, although an occasional spasm of interest in it broke loose new leads. But Dominick Dunne — projecting, but in a useful fashion, his continuing grief and rage over the under-punished murder of his own daughter — never forgot it; his novel A Season in Purgatory is based on the case. Then Mark Fuhrman, living in post-OJ semi-exile in Idaho and looking for a case that might redeem him, headed to Connecticut to research a book on Moxley’s murder and to see if he could crack it.

I don’t know enough about the timeline to say whether Michael Skakel’s arrest and trial proceeded from the work of Dunne and/or Fuhrman, or in what proportion — but Skakel was convicted of killing Moxley in 2002. Denied parole in late 2012, he remains incarcerated.

The story
Murder in Greenwich is presented by Dunne and based on Fuhrman’s book of the same name; it aired in November of 2002, not too long after Skakel’s June sentencing. You’d expect that timing to result in a rushed coda, but the ending is incorporated smoothly.

The movie is still a bit odd. It’s marked as “(TV)” on the IMDb, and according to the credits it’s a co-production of American TV studios, so: no theatrical release, and presumably not aired first in Canada or any other place that’s a bit more permissive about on-air curse words. But it does contain curse words — and, thanks to the presence of Fuhrman (Christopher Meloni, still valiantly Taking! It! Personally!) and his notorious past, a few N-bombs — that get bleeped out. I actually prefer that, versus the various iterations of “go screw yourself” and “I’m gonna kick your behind” that we usually have to settle for, but it’s unusual for a movie that knows it’s intended for TV not to alter the bad words in the script accordingly. What’s more, when Moxley’s body is shown, a blurry blob is positioned over her legs and waist. Moxley was in fact discovered with her slacks (…shut up, it was the mid-seventies) and undies pulled down, but again, it’s interesting that the film doesn’t get that work done with a waist-up shot and some exposition by the detectives at the scene.

Murder in Greenwich also chooses to frame the story with a beyond-the-grave voice-over from “Mox” (Maggie Grace). The device is no doubt designed to lighten some of the exposition burden on Meloni and Robert Forster as Detective Steve Carroll, and it’s successful when compared with that alternative; Grace as Moxley, in VO and flashbacks, is quite winning, particularly with the instinctive braces-covering lip pull after she smiles. But the narration strains too hard for lyricism, and is reminiscent of The Lovely Bones in a way that favors neither story.

And this story, as told, is not very interesting. If the recreation of the ’70s, costuming-wise, is half-hearted, the wig work is in a persistent vegetative state — Meloni’s toupee does nothing to make him look more like Fuhrman, and the jellyfish dipped in hot chocolate on Tommy Skakel (Toby Moore) should have gotten someone fired. The writing is above average and briskly paced, but the fact that it’s derived from Fuhrman’s book doesn’t quite excuse the excessive time spent reminding us that Fuhrman is a convicted perjurer and N-word-flinger-about whom nobody in Connecticut trusts. That does generate one snappy scene that says more about the future dead-eyed captains of industry coming out of the CT main line than it does about Fuhrman, as a weaselly student makes Fuhrman in a coffee shop, then begs, “C’mon, Detective Fuhrman — say ‘n—–.’ Please?” Earlier, Fuhrman grumped about the town’s inability to see past his OJ testimony to the job he’s trying to do now. Told to put himself in their shoes by his co-author, Fuhrman snorts, “I can’t afford their shoes.”

The writing’s not bad, in other words; it’s just not terribly compelling, at least not in the hands of Meloni, a perfectly capable actor who chooses to play Fuhrman as Elliot Stabler with a depressed squirrel affixed to his head. The script does a decent job implying Michael Skakel’s motives for the killing, while at the same time saddling the actor playing Michael (Jon Foster of Life As We Know It) with some weapons-grade horseshit to play. A mouthed “I love you” to a hallucination of his dead mother, for example, should probably not prompt uncomfortable giggling. Moore, meanwhile, looks disconcertingly like Criminal Minds‘s Matthew Gray Gubler, and knowing it’s not Gubler is not going to make it stop bugging you as to where you’ve seen him before, so I’ll save you a trip: he played more or less the same role in an SVU episode about intra-fraternity pledge-week rapes.

I haven’t read Fuhrman’s book and therefore can’t compare it to the TV-movie version, but Murder in Greenwich is not a bad intro to the case. It’s only 89 minutes, and while it probably suffers somewhat from age — i.e., it was probably more interesting when it was more timely — it’s not dead dull. It’s just not essential.

If you’re already familiar with the case, you may do better with the New York article describing the firefight over the case between Dominick Dunne and RFK Jr. across the letters and front-of-book pages of various publications. Suffice it to say that Dunne’s gilded-toad presentation may have been off-putting to some, but it doesn’t mean he got this one wrong.

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