The 1985 film, Marie, tells a true story.
(In fact, the film’s official title is Marie: A True Story, just in case there was any doubt.)
The film opens in Tennessee, in the early 70s. Marie Ragghianati (Sissy Spacek) has left her alcoholic and abusive husband and is now living with her mother and trying to raise three children, one of whom is chronically ill, on her own. Though she manages to win a scholarship to Vanderbilt University, she quickly discovers that having a degree does not necessarily translate into getting a job. However, while Marie was a student, she became acquainted with Eddie Sisk (Jeff Daniels), a seemingly friendly lawyer who now has a job as the counsel for the newly elected governor of Tennessee, Ray Blanton (Don Hood). Marie goes to see Eddie and she soon finds herself working in the governor’s office.
With Eddie’s support, Marie rises up through the ranks. Of course, he does get a little bit annoyed whenever Marie asks him why the governor is so eager to offer clemency to certain criminals. At first, Eddie claims that it’s because the governor is against the death penalty and he doesn’t want to send anyone to die in “Old Sparky.” Later, Eddie claims that it’s because the state has been ordered to do something about prison overcrowding. And finally, Eddie admits that, on occasion, it’s done as a political favor. It appears that some of the children of Tennessee’s wealthiest families have a really bad habit of getting arrested for some very serious crimes.
Eventually, there’s an opening on the state parole board and Eddie recommends that Marie be appointed the board’s new chairperson. As Eddie explains it, the governor wants to put a Democrat on the board and he wants to appoint a woman. (Despite the governor’s insistence that he wants to bring more women into state government, the film makes it clear that the Blanton administration was essentially a boys club.) Marie agrees and soon, she’s making over a hundred dollars a day! (That was apparently an unusual thing in the 70s.)
No sooner has Marie moved into her new position than she is informed that some of the governor’s aides have been selling pardons. When Marie goes to Eddie about the situation, his charming facade disappears as he gets angry with her and accuses her of trying to ruin his career. When rumors get out that she may have gone to the FBI, Marie becomes a pariah. The governor demands her resignation, which she refuses to give. She finds herself being followed by strange cars and harassed by the police. (At one point, she is arrested for drunk driving despite being sober.) Meanwhile, people start to show up dead.
When Blanton fires Marie on trumped-up corruption charges, she decides to take the governor to court. Fortunately, Marie is friendly with a lawyer named Fred Thompson. The future U.S. Senator and presidential candidate plays himself in this film and he gives such an authoritative performance that he went on to have a busy career as a character actor whenever he wasn’t running for or serving in office.
Marie is a strangely disjointed film. On the one hand, you’ve got Sissy Spacek, Fred Thompson, and Jeff Daniels all giving excellent performances and you’ve also got an inspiring true story. On the other hand, the film attempts to combine so many different genres that it sometimes feels as if you’re watching multiple films at once. The film starts out as the story of a single mom trying to restart her life and then it becomes a workplace drama as Marie has to deal with gossip about her relationship with Eddie and hostile co-workers like fellow board member Charles Traughber (Morgan Freeman, in a small role that would probably be forgettable if it was filled by anyone other than Morgan Freeman). Then it becomes a courtroom drama, with Fred Thompson cross-examining witnesses and giving final arguments. Meanwhile, at the same time, it’s also a political thriller in which two men are brutally murdered before they can testify against the governor. And then finally, it’s also a crime drama as detectives try to track down a career criminal who has friends in the governor’s office. It’s a film of many good parts but those parts don’t always seem to easily fit together and the end result is somewhat awkward whole.
(Interestingly enough, some of the film’s moments that seem as if they’re most likely to be fictionalized are actually based on fact. For instance, two men who could have brought down Blanton were mysteriously murdered at the same time that Marie was suing the state.)
In the end, Marie doesn’t really come together but it has a good cast and a good lesson: Never trust a politician.
Other Entries In The 18 Days Of Paranoia: