On July 13, 1980, Candy Montgomery swung an axe at Betty Gore around 41 times. This is undeniable. Even Montgomery acknowledges it. Despite this, she is the only one sure of what occurred. The story of Betty Gore’s death has been a true-crime mainstay for years for various reasons, chief among them the unusualness of an ordinary suburban mom turning into an ax murderer. However, it has also become a streaming miniseries obsession with Hulu’s “Candy” premiering almost precisely a year before David E. Kelley and HBO Max’s take on the subject in this week’s “Love & Death.” The two films’ distinctions are intriguing, but the overall lesson is much the same—this is another telling of the Montgomery tale that succeeds entirely due to its great actors. Although the writing is lacking, Elizabeth Olsen’s performance grows more and more captivating. The entire cast, especially Jesse Plemons and Tom Pelphrey, also deliver strong performances. I’m not sure what happened in that laundry room over forty years ago, despite all the podcasts, actual crime shows, and now both miniseries. Still, it’s fertile fodder for Hollywood to keep exploring.
Olsen portrays Montgomery, a typical resident of Wylie, Texas, who has a pretty ordinary life. She is a devoted Methodist who appears content with her religion and bland-but-nice husband, Pat (Patrick Fugit). He enjoys a light giggle when watching “The Love Boat,” It seems like those moments are the climax of his day, but he doesn’t mind it that way. One of the fascinating aspects of Kelley’s method is the way the renowned artist depicts mundaneness that may still be satisfying, lives that are being lived all over the world that might not have a typical Hollywood degree of excitement but don’t appear to dislike it. Even the relationship between the two persons that ultimately results in the murder has an intriguingly utilitarian air to it—they decide to start having sex the same way they choose to bring muffins to a church party.
These two are Candy and Allan Gore (Plemons), Betty’s (Lily Rabe) spouse. Candy instantly asks Allan if they might start sleeping with them after a few flirtations. They discuss it in several sessions, weigh the benefits and drawbacks, and decide to move forward. Candy is the first to use her tongue when she kisses Allan because he has had a suppressed sexual life, even with a wife and kids. There is apparent sympathy for both individuals as they struggle with intrinsically human passions to escape their suburban ruts. But “Love & Death” is hardly an obsessional tale. Kelley and the others want to prevent such a reasonable interpretation of the murder. It’s not as easy as a love triangle with a jealous participant; Olsen’s Candy likes her time with Allan and regrets it when it seems a support group has restored the Gore marriage. That is different from how complicated this is.
Once more, we know that Candy used an axe to butcher Betty. Candy has consistently argued for self-defense. After discovering the relationship, Betty threatened the woman. To protect herself, Candy had to yank the axe away. Did she need to hit Betty 41 times? In the middle of the seven-episode miniseries, Kelley arrives at the crime, allowing him to delve into the setting that has always interested him the most as a writer: the courtroom. As the focus of “Love & Death” switches from churches and homes to Candy Montgomery’s trial, Tom Pelphrey, who plays her attorney Don Crowder (someone gives him a “Law & Order”), do some terrific work. In a controversial trial of an admitted murderer, the “Ozark” actor excels at communicating the legal pitfalls he’s seeking to avoid.
Is emphasizing the defendant’s lawyer’s narrative so much the best way to portray the tale of Candy Montgomery and Betty Gore? (It is undoubtedly a very Kelley strategy.) Additionally, I was disappointed in Melanie Lynskey’s portrayal of Betty in “Candy” because Rabe’s portrayal of Betty is only very hazily painted. The balance may have shifted to Allan more than Betty due to the great Plemons’ casting. The Oscar contender for “The Power of the Dog” may remind viewers how much he can convey with just a line read or forlorn body language, even though this move might diminish the real victim in this situation. Here, he’s excellent.
Though “Love & Death” belongs to Elizabeth Olsen, everyone is. The fourth main episode, which depicts how Candy might have survived the day after such a heinous event, is a master class from her. As “Love & Death” progresses, Olsen draws us in more and more, making us wonder how much we should respect, tolerate, or comprehend her. I doubt that we ever.