If you're going to watch one of these based-on-a-true-story movies, it probably helps if you don't know how it all turns out.
That was the case for me with "Blue-Eyed Butcher" (8 tonight, Lifetime), the story of a Houston, Texas woman who stabbed her husband about 200 times after, she claims, years of abuse. I never heard about this but it must have been a big deal; the film includes footage of Nancy Grace discussing it and perhaps even coining the title 'blue-eyed butcher.' (That Nancy!)
The film interweaves the trial with the back story. Pretty, blonde, innocent, sweet Susan (Sara Paxton) meets Jeff (Justin Bruening) at the beach; he's a drug user and a strip joint devotee but he decides it's time to settle down and there's something about Susan. When Susan gets pregnant (either accidentally or with calculation, depending on your point of view), he proposes. After all, they love each other.
But as you can tell by the title, the fairy tale doesn't last. Turns out Jeff is a controlling abuser who drives Susan near-crazy with her efforts to please him. Allegedly. One night, high on coke, Jeff comes home late for dinner, calls Susan a slut and hits their young son, splitting his lip. Allegedly. And then he goes to bed. Susan ties his legs and arms to the bed and gets the knife. We agree this happened.
The prosecutor Kelly Siegler (Lisa Edelstein) doesn't buy the abuse excuse and goes hard after Susan, even at one point, bringing the bloody bed into the court and straddling her co-counsel to demonstrate some of the nearly 200 wounds.
"Butcher" embellishes the story (read this damning review by a real-life figure in the case), but the problem with it isn't what it adds, it's what it lacks: personality. After watching the movie, I have no idea whether Susan is a sweetie or a psycho; there's no attempt to give her depth or nuance or anything. She's just pretty. Same goes for Jeff. This is a guy who has loving, long-married parents and yet he's portrayed as an out-of-control pig who hates marriage. I mean, I guess it could happen, but how?
Both Paxton and Bruening aren't a threat to Meryl Streep; on the other hand, if they ever make a TV movie on the life of Gloria Allred, I'd say they should consider Edelstein. She does barracuda well.
"Butcher" doesn't make the ranks of great Lifetime fare because the characters lack depth. The great movies have a lot more heart and soul.