Death in Paradise
Benefit of the Doubt
Lost in Paradise
This review is going to be slightly different, being simply a general retrospective on the nine Jesse Stone films thus far and the main character, played by Tom Selleck. It is hard to justify having an individual review for any made-for-TV movie, but I feel the series as a whole deserves a look in alongside the American actor’s more well known work like Blue Bloods and Magnum P.I. The series (listed above) is based on the crime novels by the late Robert B. Parker.
Jesse Stone is the local police chief in a small fictional town called Paradise, in Massachusetts. Plagued by alcoholism and subsequently fired from his old job as a cop in Boston, he moves away, joining the Paradise Police Department to make a fresh start. Oh, and just to make matters worse, his wife left him.
Of course, what looked to be an easy job in a quiet town turns out to be anything but for Stone, and the chief of police finds himself acting as a detective investigating murders for most of the nine films. Like a lot of maverick cops, Stone likes to cut corners and steps on so many toes of the local town council that he ends up losing this job midway through the series, only to be reinstated when they realise deep down they need his unconventional policing methods to solve cases. In the interim, Stone works a couple of murder cases for his pal in the Boston CID, the recurring character Captain Healy, played by Stephen McHattie.
Homicides taking place in Boston form the story for four of the movies; Thin Ice, No Remorse, Innocents Lost and Lost in Paradise. There is at least a bit more realism there, as killings really do happen frequently in big cities, but they don't happen much in small towns. In the other movies there is the recurring theme of Stone trying to grasp the irony of atrocities all happening on his quiet home turf, which happens to be called Paradise, and this has shades of A Touch of Frost or Inspector Morse. Like the latter, the protagonist is a troubled and lonely character but an excellent detective, who has a drinking problem. The Stone films are also of similar length to these TV programmes, so they could quite easily form a series of that format instead of movies per se.
Whether made for cinema or not, what helps define the Stone series as movies is the actors involved. William Sadler (Die Hard 2, The Shawshank Redemption) has a recurring role as Boston gangster Gino Fish, who has an interesting character arc, seemingly going from disliking Jesse to gaining respect for him and passing him information to help solve cases. The scenes involving him and Selleck together are joy to behold, and Sadler has a truly menacing presence - definitely some of his best performances I have seen as an actor. William Devane, of 24 fame, is fantastic as Stone's psychiatrist Dr Dix (below); a man with his own idiosyncrasies.
The dialogue is one of the main attractions of the Jesse Stone series, both in the films and Parker's books which set the style. It is hilarious watching the police chief's short one-word answers rub off on virtually everyone he encounters, with conversations rattling back and forth like machine gun fire. It gives the films their own unique identity and even a black comedy tone at times. I genuinely find myself looking forward to the scenes when Stone visits Dr Dix. The best of them is at the beginning of the latest instalment Lost in Paradise, though after this the film becomes rather formulaic. Another film is set to be released relatively soon through the Hallmark channel.
The Stone movies follow the novels closely, with Selleck himself also contributing to the latter screenplays. Jesse struggles throughout the series to move on from his ex-wife Jenn, who he remains friends with and still loves. She is spoken of and heard speaking to him over the phone regularly but never appears onscreen. This was a good move by the writers. Jenn is around Jesse for large parts of the novels but for no real purpose, and her appearances gradually become repetitive and irritating. She was - quite wisely - substituted onscreen by a golden retriever.
Ah yes, Reggie. Stone's dog is by his side for much of the films and the two have an odd relationship. There are curious parallels between him and the animal, both seemingly afraid to let anybody get too close and ever show any sort of affection. Sadly, the dog who played Reggie died before Lost in Paradise, but is replaced onscreen by another retriever who Jesse re-homes.
Jeff Beal's classical music throughout the series fits into the scenes very well. It beautifully conveys the bleak nature of the small, rain-lashed town, plus the lonely atmosphere in Stone's dark house as he pours himself a scotch for the umpteenth time. As you can probably gather from this feature, each of the films follows a very similar theme but this is not necessarily a bad thing. The first entry Stone Cold is the darkest and probably most electrifying. Thin Ice and No Remorse I love from the point of view that our hero is more cantankerous than ever, takes no prisoners and seems to piss off virtually everyone he comes into contact with.
There are no major let-downs right through the Jesse Stone catalogue and though often repetitive, they are intriguing murder mysteries. The plot for each one is full of twists and often complex detail, so like most detective flicks, it is fun to put all the pieces together as we go along. There has been a bit of a gap since Lost in Paradise in 2015 and hopefully it won't be too much longer until the next instalment arrives.