There are times when being a Ron Eldard fan can feel kind of weird. While he’s a terrific actor, he’s also one who often does his best work when playing racist scumbags (in House of Sand and Fog) and abusive boyfriends (on ER). Lifetime’s adaptation of Jodi Picoult’s 2006 novel offers a welcome showcase for Eldard’s softer side, at least at first. He plays Daniel Stone, a successful comic-book artist and doting stay-at-home dad who’s totally there for his teenage daughter, Trixie (Britt Robertson), after she accuses a classmate of date rape at a wild party. The same certainly can’t be said of Trixie’s mom, Laura (Kelly Preston), who’s off shtupping a younger guy during her daughter’s ordeal.
It’s soon revealed that Daniel (who grew up in Alaska as basically the only white kid in an Inuit community) was cleared on a murder charge at 18, and his aggressive tendencies show through after the alleged perp (Jamie Johnston) attempts to poke holes in Trixie’s story. The focus remains on the girl, however, which is what allows The Tenth Circle to transcend its genre. The film offers an unsparing, eerily detached look at the gauntlet women are subject to when they press charges for sexual assault, and Robertson (Swingtown) turns in a powerful performance that makes Trixie deeply sympathetic while also keeping her motives partially concealed. The Tenth Circle could have easily warranted the dreaded “ABC Afterschool Special” sobriquet—one of the few labels more damning than “Lifetime movie”—but as an intensely sensitive portrait of a young woman under pressure, the film holds its own against those made by any network you can name.