Terry Kelleher
August 20, 2001 12:00 PM

Lifetime (Mon., Aug. 20, 9 p.m. ET)

Show of the week

Ellen Burstyn, Oscar-nominated for her performance as a diet-pill addict in last year’s Requiem for a Dream, portrays a woman who seems hopelessly hooked on harder drugs at the start of this TV movie. When the cops come to bust her, Burstyn’s Joan yells “Shoot me!” with frightening sincerity.

The character softens as the drama progresses, but Burstyn remains credible throughout. Within These Walls, inspired by a true story, recounts Joan’s transformation from sullen convict to caring human being through the influence of a determined Dominican nun. Sister Pauline (well played by Laura Dern) enlists Joan in a new program that calls for inmates to develop discipline and responsibility by training dogs to assist the disabled. While Joan passes through the predictable stages from indifference to dedication, we learn that Sister Pauline is still coming to terms with her own history of homelessness and despair. The script is uneven, and the secondary characters—including the usual tough-but-fair prison supervisor (100 Centre Street’s LaTanya Richardson)—could be more convincing. But it’s worth visiting the slammer to see the two stars.

Bottom Line: Some good work behind bars

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