Conspiracy of Silence.
There are two reviews that will be listed here. One for the book and one for the movie. Both mediums present a different point of view . Originally, I had wanted to wait to read the book, after I had written the movie review; but the book arrived and I was tempted to read... so I did.
The movie is presented
from the view point of Lee Colgan (played by Michael Mahonen) . Lee is
the spoiled ,youngest child of Joyce and Bud Colgan. Bored on a Friday
night in The Pas, Manitoba, Lee convinces his mother that his father should
let him borrow the family car to go out riding with his friends. He picks
up his friend and neighbor, Jim Houghton and the ride begins. They find
another friend, perpetually drunk, Norm Manger. When they spot an
acquaintance, Dwayne Johnston fighting outside a bar; they offer him
a ride so he can get away from the police who have come to stop the fight.
The evening is filled with male boasting and excessive drinking; when they spot a lone figure walking down the street. Helen Betty Osborne, a 19 year old Cree, who is on her way home. They force Betty into the car and begin to mistreat her ...verbally, sexually and with complete disregard for her wishes. The evening ends in tragedy ... Betty lies dead in the snow, naked and alone. The four return to town and agree "not to talk" about what happened... thus, beginning the "Conspiracy of Silence"...
Betty's body is found quickly, and the four consult a lawyer; who tells them "No one but you four knows what happened... if no one talks... no one goes to jail. Silence for all four." The RCMP do all that they can to get to the bottom of the killing, but no one talks... not to them, that is. Lee is the "weakest" of the four and starts telling his tale all over town, every time he gets drunk...which becomes more frequent as the years roll on. The town becomes part of the "conspiracy", they all assume the police "must" know; so no one tells them what they know or have heard.
Lee meets Sandy, at his favorite bar and in time; she becomes his wife . The killing presses so heavily on his mind that he drinks, drinks and drinks some more. Sandy finally leaves him, taking their son with her. Lee, with no job or money; is forced to go back to live with his parents....a very unhappy circumstance for all involved. The other three go on with their lives, moving to other provinces and living as if the killing never took place. But Lee can not forget ".. It was November 12, 1971... that's when my life stopped. It's not the booze that did it... it was that night..."
In 1982, the case is re-opened by a new Constable of the RCMP in The Pas, and eventually all four are brought to justice. Lee , after being in jail with the DT's, is put into a hospital; where he agrees to testify for the Crown in exchange for complete immunity for the killing. Houghton and Johnston are the two on trial; because of Lee's testimony Houghton is acquitted but Johnston is convicted of the murder.
This is a long and difficult movie to follow. There are many characters who appear in the beginning and re-appear near the end; so you must follow closely or you will loose the plot. The acting is excellent; this movie was nominated for and won a number of Gemini awards.
won a Gemini for his portrayal of Lee Colgan, and rightly deserves it!
At the beginning, he is sweet faced, shinning haired, wide eyed ,
17 year old Mama's boy. By the middle of the movie, he is a pasty faced,
mustached, divorced father, 33 year old drunk who looks and
acts like a dissipated old man. It is hard to believe that he was playing
young Lee, old Lee and Gus Pike simultaneously; but he was. Michael's powers
of concentration must be extraordinary ( any of the Gus episodes on RTA
that were filmed at this time ...show no signs of "Lee").
Though I find it hard to criticize Michael's performance, I do have a couple of comments. At one point Lee says that "...girls aren't exactly lining up.." Michael at this point is still very attractive looking, and this line is a little hard to believe ( although, it was a believable scene). Later, this "looser" with girls, has a scene in the bar where he meets his future wife. This is a breath taking scene. Lee asks Sandy to dance, and never takes his eyes off of her ... they chat for a moment or two... then he asks "..wanna get married...?" Michael's "power" is very strong in this scene, and it comes off almost "romantic" somewhat at odds with the whole theme of the movie.
Michael never tries to make Lee "sympathetic" nor does he make him the "villain"; there is no way I could ever like Lee Colgan. But the way he was portrayed, left me with some hope for the character at the end of the movie ( then I read the book, and changed my mind...)
One change I would have liked to make in the movie is this. Early on, the RCMP come to Justine Osborne's home, at Norway House Reserve, to tell her that Betty has been murdered. Justine cries out in agony, and the scene shifts to another part of the story line. In the last moments of the movie, we see Justine outside the court house. The reporters ask if she feels justice has been done ? There had been a great deal of racial prejudice in the film. Betty was a Native, the killers white: and it was felt that had she been white the killing never would have taken place... or if it had; the police would have found the killers of a white girl in less time than the 16 years it took for Betty's killers to be charged and convicted. The film ends with Justine remembering Betty as she had last seen her, young, happy and preparing to leave the reserve to go to The Pas to attend school.
I think people would have had more sympathy for, and empathy with, Betty, if this had been shown just as the mother was venting her grief. What happen to Betty was horrific; but we know so little about her, that she is almost forgotten. Showing her as her mother saw her, at the beginning of the film ,would have made the rest of the movie more balanced. It focused on Lee, and Betty was almost an after thought.
was a reporter covering the trial, and has many documented facts and photographs.
The actors in the film look remarkably like the four who murdered Betty.
Lisa's book tries to be non-judgmental and she gives positive as well as
negative information on the four and Betty herself.
She holds none of the four up for sympathy ( although, I get the feeling that she did not believe that Dwayne Johnston... alone.. killed Betty). There are a number of theories as to who really killed Betty. Johnston, alone. Colgan and Houghton ( where was Johnston and what was he doing while they committed murder?). Manger, was never a murder suspect, he also testified for the Crown. It was felt that he was far too drunk to "do" anything the night of the killing. No one suggested that he did anything but "be there" that night.
Houghton comes off as a clean cut, husband, father and devoted family man. But was HE the killer? When he was questioned, he had a "mental black out" of all the events of the night of the murder. (He never broke his "silence"). Johnston was a motor cycle gang member, with a long beard and waste length hair. He was known to be a wife beater and had a violent temper. He followed his lawyers advice, and never talked about the murder; and never testified at the trial. Lee was a drunk, drug dealer as well as user and, a wife beater, divorced father of two His wife married someone else after their divorce; and he had little or nothing to do with their two sons after that . His testimony, as well as the tales he told over the years, changed a number of times. In other words... he lied. Or was he so drunk that night that he REALLY doesn't remember all that happened ... and who did what? Or was he the killer? He, of the four, had the most trouble dealing with it. His life was ruined, where the other three managed to "make a life' for themselves that was not colored by the murder.
All in all, the book raised more questions than it answered. It is anyone's guess as to who really killed Betty.. one, two or three people? We may never know...