Anyone familiar with the folkways of Boston can appreciate the many lines of conflict drawn in "A Case of Deadly Force."
The Wednesday night movie on CBS is based on the real-life 1975 slaying of a black man by two policemen in Boston, a city not known for racial sensitivity. Richard Crenna stars as Lawrence O'Donnell, Jr., a lawyer who represented the victim's widow in a wrongful-death suit that successfully challenged the police contention that the slaying of James Bowden, Jr., was justified.
Add the fact that O'Donnell was himself a former policeman from racially antagonistic South Boston challenging the establishment to which he once belonged, and you have a number of potential flash points.
Not all of them are set off. Crenna said the racial aspect of the shooting itself -- the officers who shot Bowden were white -- is not delved into. On the surface, that seems like treating the Civil War while barely mentioning slavery.
What is presented "is a very intriguing personal story," said Crenna. "My goal was not only to make it a socially conscientious story . . . but also a a human story."
The court verdict prompted many cities to rethink what constitutes the proper use of deadly force for their police officers.
Crenna hopes the movie will come off as more than a courtroom drama. "What I wanted to establish was the personal relationship between O'Donnell and the widow (played by Loraine Toussaint)," said Crenna. "She really wanted to exonerate her husband. On his death certificate it said he was shot as a suspected armed robber. She didn't want that to go into the record."
O'Donnell, whose father had committed suicide, had a sense of mission in taking the case, said Crenna. "He couldn't change he cause of death on his father's death certificate . . . But he could do it for her."