By Sara Smith
---- — There is no manual for life after death row. Especially when your case isn’t closed.
“Rectify,” the anticipated miniseries from “Breaking Bad’s” team of producers, is a work of fiction. But its premise, a man freed by DNA evidence after half a lifetime in prison, has been stubbornly asserting itself in our cultural consciousness.
Still reeling from 19 years in solitary confinement, Daniel Holden (Aden Young of “Killer Elite” having a breakout moment), has no option but to return to the sharp-toothed hometown that demonized him for raping and killing a teenage girl. Paulie, Ga., doesn’t have a bar where you can get a stiff drink, but you can bet everybody knows your name.
“Rectify” holds its own with “Restless” and “Top of the Lake,” Sundance Channel’s other stellar miniseries this year. Flawless production design and lush cinematography make “Rectify” visually stunning, but its simmering mystery and artfully depicted dysfunction make every scene hum with tension.
Opinion on Holden’s guilt is divided in Paulie. It’s hard to forget his confession, however coerced it might have been, and the fact that he was found incoherent with the girl’s body, which he’d covered with wildflowers. There are few doubts among the men who put Holden away the first time, including a prosecutor who rode the verdict into office.
“Don’t report that he was exonerated,” insists state Sen. Roland Foulkes as Holden walks free — for now. “His sentence was vacated on a technicality.” Like the others involved in the case, Foulkes (Michael O’Neill of “The West Wing”) is either evil or clinging to his last shred of conscience.
If anyone is the savior in this Lazarus story, it’s Daniel’s stepbrother’s wife, Tawney. Adelaide Clemens, also starring in the upcoming film adaptation of “The Great Gatsby,” is convincing as an honest-to-goodness sincere Southern Christian, a species rarely captured by Hollywood cameras.
Everyone on screen in “Rectify” — down to who pours the coffee at the diner — is fully realized, and everyone has a part to play in revealing who killed Hannah Dean by the river 20 years ago.
What Holden remembers about that night is anyone’s guess. He emerges from his tiny whitewashed cell an unfrozen caveman with a thousand-yard stare, to an unrecognizable family tiptoeing around him and TV crews accosting him at Wal-Mart.
“I’ll probably be happier later,” he says in one of his Rumsfeld-esque soliloquies. “Perhaps I will be angrier later, as I will be happier.”
For now, he wants to dig his Walkman out of the attic and listen to Cracker. And go to the baseball field and eat a candy bar on the grass.
Meanwhile, his lawyer (Luke Kirby, “Take This Waltz”) gets down to business trying to keep him free. His first stop: Holden’s first lawyer, Rutherford Gaines (Hal Holbrook, a terrifying Gothic force sitting motionless in an armchair).
Gaines has bad news: He didn’t save the case files, and juries don’t always care about DNA.
“Don’t let all this modern technology lull you,” he warns. “If you’re thinking you’re in modern times, watch yourself.”
WHERE TO WATCH "Rectify" begins its six-episode run on Sundance at 9 p.m., Monday, April 22. The premiere will re-air at 11 p.m. April 28 on AMC after a new episode of "Mad Men."