TV review: Female prisoners find redemption in 'Firelight'

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It's a compliment to say that the new Hallmark Hall of Fame production, "Firelight," may inspire some viewers to read or reread Plato's "Republic," or at least its "Allegory of the Cave" chapter.

To sum up this classic of literature in a few sentences, the philosopher Socrates describes prisoners who have been chained to the wall of a cave for all of their lives. They have been able to see only shadows of images, and to them the shadows are the reality. Socrates says a philosopher is like a freed prisoner who realizes that the shadows aren't reality.

Hallmark Hall of Fame's 'Firelight'

Starring: Cuba Gooding Jr., Q'orianka Kilcher.

When: 9 p.m. Sunday on ABC.

So it is for the women in the Georgia correctional facility where "Firelight" is set. Their past, with its crimes, mistakes, guilt, abuse and brokenness, needn't determine who they really are or what their destinies will be. The "Allegory of the Cave" is a recurring motif in the movie.

In the opening scene, Caroline (Q'orianka Kilcher) and her boyfriend are fleeing the scene of a robbery. He abandons her as she twists her ankle, and she's sentenced to the corrections facility. When her bus breaks down en route, Caroline goes hysterical when a butterfly lands on her; she's never been to the country or seen a butterfly. Trying to reassure her, the compassionate inmate Terry (DeWanda Wise) tells Caroline, "When a butterfly lands on you, it's good luck."

Terry is leader of Crew 9, an elite team of female firefighters within the facility who fight forest fires and assist civilians in natural disasters. Terry is working hard to redeem herself after committing a senseless crime (shown in flashback) and trying to win parole so she can support her dying mother.

The caring counselor Dwayne Johnson (D.J.), played by Cuba Gooding Jr., works to show the women a vision of what they could be and pronounces such wisdom as "We all create our own reality by the choices we make." D.J. has created Crew 9 so that its women would feel stronger, and so that others would see and respect their strength.

Other important roles are the incarcerated gang leader Pedra (played by Carnegie Mellon alumna Rebecca Rivera in her film debut) and Crew 9 members Amy (Emily Tremaine) and Keisha (Yakini Horn), who round out a fine cast of young female talent.

The movie shows that even in this fairly sanitized corrections facility, there are plenty of inhumanities, as well as threats, drugs and terror. A key character, fearing for her life, enters protective custody.

Some of the characters redeem themselves, and frequently this means accepting the help of others and trying not to go it alone. In an early scene, Terry saves Keisha's life in a freak accident while they're fighting a fire, and in a sensational climax, Crew 9 members risk their lives to save a trapped civilian.

The main pleasure of the movie is watching a group of talented young actresses seize some meaty roles. I expect to see much more of them.

Some trivia: Q'orianka Kilcher, who starred as Pocahontas in Terrence Malick's 2005 movie "The New World," is first cousin once removed to singer Jewel Kilcher; Jewel is first cousin of Saskia Kilcher, the mother of Q'orianka. And another singer, Alicia Keys, is one of the executive producers.

"Firelight" ends a streak of uninspired Hallmark Hall of Fame productions and gets the series, created in 1951, back on a positive track.


Jim Heinrich:; 412-263-1851.


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