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Lifetime's Murdaugh Murders: The Movie Finds a Fresh Angle Into the Infamous Case

The network's 500th original film paints a more complete picture of a case that has been picked apart by the media.
  • Bill Pullman as Alex Murdaugh in Murdaugh Murders: The Movie (Photo: Lifetime)
    Bill Pullman as Alex Murdaugh in Murdaugh Murders: The Movie (Photo: Lifetime)

    If you're sitting down to watch Lifetime's Murdaugh Murders: The Movie, chances are you're already familiar with the case and the man at the center of it: disgraced South Carolina attorney Alex Murdaugh. In the years since the double homicide of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh, Alex's wife and son, the case has dominated the public's attention, with millions tuning in to the early 2023 murder trial (Alex was convicted and sentenced to two life terms) and the many documentaries about the family's web of lies and corruption. While these projects have connected the dots between the murders, Paul's involvement in the 2019 boat crash that killed Mallory Beach, and the suspicious deaths of housekeeper Gloria Satterfield and Stephen Smith, they've been primarily concerned with the more salacious aspects of the case, including Alex's suicide-for-hire plot and abuse of prescription drugs.

    Given its track record with ripped-from-the-headlines dramas, one would think Lifetime's two-night event — the first scripted take on the Murdaugh saga and the network's 500th original movie — would follow this trend. But Murdaugh Murders: The Movie is full of surprises. Though it doesn't exactly buck sensationalism (it's still a Lifetime movie, complete with a hammy performance from lead Bill Pullman), the film emphasizes some of the more overlooked aspects of the case, particularly Alex's financial fraud and money laundering schemes, to which he pleaded guilty in September.

    To be sure, Murdaugh Murders: The Movie hits all the familiar beats in this now-infamous case. The first few minutes establish the Murdaughs' privileged place in the South Carolina Lowcountry, where they have wielded power for generations, and the pressure Alex (Pullman) is under to carry on the family name, something he passes on to his youngest son Paul (Curtis Tweedie). When Paul gets into scrapes, Alex steps in to clean up the mess, calling in favors with police officers and bribing judges with country club memberships and season tickets. He attempts to do the same with the fatal boat crash by falsely claiming that Paul's friend Connor Cook (Quinten James) was driving, but the overwhelming evidence that Paul, whose blood alcohol content was three times the legal limit several hours after the accident, was at the helm proves difficult for authorities to ignore.

    When Paul is indicted on felony charges, the walls begin closing in on Alex. "I built a mountain from what I was given! And that is all going to you and Buster," he tells Paul, grabbing his son by the shirt and dragging him before a portrait of his great-grandfather. "And what have you done with it, son? What is your legacy?! Besides a dead girl and our financial ruin?"

    The boat crash and the wrongful death lawsuit filed by Beach's family are widely considered the beginning of Alex's unraveling, but Murdaugh Murders: The Movie doesn't mistake it for the only factor that led to his downfall. Director Greg Beeman and writer Michael Vickerman also focus on the 2018 death of Gloria Satterfield (Tanja Dixon-Warren), who allegedly tripped and suffered a severe head injury while working in the Murdaughs' home, and Alex's attempt to defraud her family out of a $4.3 million settlement. Part 1 includes a conversation between Alex and business associate Cory Fleming (Michael Buie) in which he directs Cory to establish a shell account to funnel the settlement money into. "It is important that the Satterfields never be informed of the details and the developments in the settlement without my approval," Alex tells Cory.

    Later, Alex transfers a portion of the $4.3 million disbursement into his personal account — just minutes before brushing off concerns from Gloria's son, who explains that without the money, his family will lose their home.

    Lifetime also introduces Don Hamilton, a composite of the dozens of clients Alex stole from over the course of his career as a personal injury attorney. (Indictments accused him of taking nearly $8.8 million from his victims.) Pullman plays up the smarminess of the conman and convicted murderer in these scenes, underscoring Alex's lack of remorse and his unwavering confidence that he would get away with deceiving people who put their total faith in him. Naturally, these are among the film's most infuriating moments, but that makes his eventual arrest in Part 2 — and a scene in which investigators confront Alex with evidence of multiple financial crimes — all the more satisfying.

    In moving beyond the murders of Maggie and Paul — and even beyond Alex, to the corrupt judges and businessmen in his orbit — Murdaugh Murders: The Movie reminds viewers of the Murdaughs' many other victims, painting a more complete picture of a case that has already been picked apart by the media. Lifetime's fall movie lineup, which includes dramatizations of Casey White's prison escape and "Amish stud" Eli White's plot to murder his wife, suggests the network hasn't turned over a new leaf when it comes to adapting harrowing stories for the small screen, but in terms of the Murdaugh saga, its 500th original film sets the standard for the many scripted projects coming down the pipeline.

    Murdaugh Murders: The Movie airs Saturday, October 14 and Sunday, October 15 at 8:00 PM ET on Lifetime.

    Claire Spellberg Lustig is the Senior Editor at Primetimer and a scholar of The View. Follow her on Twitter at @c_spellberg.

    TOPICS: Murdaugh Murders: The Movie, Lifetime, Bill Pullman, Curtis Tweedie, Lauren Robek