Jesse Stone is the bored, over qualified police chief in the small town of Paradise, Massachusetts. He deals with his boredom and depression over his failed marriage and career with alcohol. His shrink mentions he might be better served if he found something in his work to concentrate on. He asks his new assistant Rose to look into cold cases and she pops three unsolved murders off the top of her head. The most recent one was in 1992, and Stone decides to reopen the case to take his mind off his problems.
Jesse Stone: Sea Change is the latest in the series of made-for-television movies based on Robert Parker’s novels. Parker made his name writing the numerous novels starring private investigator Spenser, made popular through the television series Spenser: For Hire. The series starred Robert Ulrich as the titular character Spenser and Avery Brooks as his partner Hawk. Brooks would become famous for his character Sisko on Star Trek: Deep Space 9, but I will always remember him as Hawk, the best part of that show. Parker decided in 1997, after writing more than twenty Spenser novels, he would try his luck with a new lead character. These novels would differ from the Spenser books in both style and tone. Written in third person (Spenser was written in first person), Jesse Stone is a deeply-troubled man, with a failed marriage, failed career and battles with alcoholism. The books were a big change from the self-assured character of Spenser.
In 2005, CBS picked up the rights to make Jesse Stone made-for-television movies. This was familiar ground for Parker, as there were four Spenser televised films after the show was cancelled. The first film, Stone Cold, was based on the fourth Jesse Stone novel, but with this as a new beginning, the series of movies tried to appear chronological throughout their run. Stone Cold was followed by Night Passage (based on the first novel), Death in Paradise (based on the third novel), Sea Change (based on the fifth novel) and this year will bring us Thin Ice, which is the first not to be based on an existing novel.
To bring you up to date, Jesse Stone is a former minor league shortstop whose career ended after a nasty arm injury. He chose to become a police officer and rose through the ranks to become one of Los Angeles’s top homicide detectives. He married an actress and was living the high life until his wife (Jennifer) began to cheat on him and they soon divorced. He turned to alcohol to cope with his failure leading to his termination from the L.A.P.D. after he was caught drinking on the job. He was hired to become the new police chief for the small town of Paradise, Massachusetts despite showing up to the interview drunk. He was hired because the men who controlled the town were embezzling money for a big-time crime lord and wanted a patsy police chief they could control. Jesse proved to be a little more than they expected and he soon brought the men to justice and began a semi-successful career as chief in the boring, sleepy town.
One problem with Sea Change is you are expected to know this history before jumping into the film. Sea Change begins with Stone hating his life and bored to death at the lack of activity in the small town. One thing that has not changed is his struggle with alcoholism and his reliance on Black Label to put himself to sleep every night. He continues to get phone calls from Jennifer, who still wants to be friends, however you only get small hints at the reason for these tormenting phone calls. The deputy in this film is a newcomer, brought in because his regular deputy Molly (Viola Davis) is on maternity leave. Stone is also seeing a psychiatrist (William Devane) who tells him he needs to find an important case to work on to help him slow down his drinking.
This is where the plot picks up in this movie. Stone asks his new deputy (Kathy Baker) to find some cold cases for him and he picks an unsolved from 1992. It involved a bank robbery and a body which was found buried in a field. The money was never recovered. He sets out to find out what happened by talking to the sister of the victim (Rebecca Pidgeon), the guard who might or might not have fired the killing shot (James Gammon), the man who originally hired him as police chief who now sits in jail (Saul Rubinek) and the crime lord that has plagued him throughout the series (William Sadler). If that sounds like a lot, it is. I think the names of the actors, while not A-list stars, are still recognizable and to have them strung throughout the movie as nothing more than glorified cameos is kind of a joke.
The twist at the end of the mystery is really not that surprising nor set up well enough to make you care. There is also a subplot involving a girl who claimed to be raped while aboard a boat owned by a wealthy man. Sean Young makes her glorified cameo here (along with Nigel Bennett) and the entire subplot seemed to be added to increase the running time of the film. There was also a subplot involving a young deputy who awakens from a coma with paranormal premonitions that are played mainly for humor. Unfortunately, they fail to be funny. The movie felt like a one-hour television show stretched out to a feature length running time. It supplied us with entirely too much fat. By the way, the fact that he found a case to work on does not make him drink less. These are the many failures of Sea Change.
However, I still enjoyed the movie. Despite all my complaints, the movie supplied something that made me enjoy watching it and sent me to the store to buy the Robert Parker novels it was based on. The character of Jesse Stone is very well crafted and is an interesting character to follow. The movie, while bloated and short on actual plot, worked as a lazy, comfortable character study of a man who is trapped in a life he hates. Tom Selleck has moved comfortably into the suit of Jesse Stone, and has found his life after Magnum P.I. In his former role, he moved with an arrogant swagger, yet remained a man with a dangerous past that threatened to surface throughout the run of the series. In Jesse Stone, he has found a more mature character to embody, one who relies a little too much on the bottle to make it through the day. This is a man who was at one time proud but now drifts through his life. It is a great role played to perfection by a great actor.
At the end of the day, Sea Change is a completely forgettable movie but the character of Jesse Stone is one that will stick around the back of your mind. The movie may not be that great, but after watching it you really find yourself wanting more. There is a great series to be found here, I just hope that the adventures are stronger in future installments.
The picture and sound quality are just fine for a television movie. Both are transferred over with little to no problems. There are no extra features save three previews (Comanche Moon, Damages Season 1 and Blonde Ambition).