DVD Review: I Am Elizabeth Smart

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Lionsgate has issued I Am Elizabeth Smart on DVD, following its original broadcast on the Lifetime Network in late 2017. This is the second TV-movie based on the incredible true story of the abduction of Elizabeth Smart (the first was the 2003 rush job, The Elizabeth Smart Story). This is the better movie, by far, helped immensely by the direct participation of the now 30-year-old Smart herself.

That's right, Elizabeth Smart actually appears throughout the film as herself—directly addressing the audience about the unimaginable ordeal she endured over the course of 9 months (June 2002 - March 2003). At the age of 14, Smart was kidnapped from her family's home in Salt Lake City by Brian David Mitchell and his wife Wanda Barzee. The couple held Smart captive in the woods, during which she was subjected to an existence so abusive it defies comprehension. The on-screen inclusion of the real-life Smart, who also served as a producer, adds a sense of urgency that no actor could hope to convey.

That's not to say Alana Boden doesn't turn in a credible performance as the 14-year-old Smart. Boden effectively conveys the horror of Smart's predicament, with similarly convincing work by Skeet Ulrich as the monstrous Mitchell. Director Sarah Walker never strikes an exploitative tone, always remaining respectful to her subject.

That said, her film is never easy to watch—the reality of Smart's unthinkable situation is always at the forefront. Deirdre Lovejoy also delivers unnerving work as Barzee. Some might be tempted to go easier on Barzee, given the ultra-controlling nature of Mitchell, whose influence she was undeniably under. Truth is, Barzee was just as much a participant in the crimes against Elizabeth Smart as Mitchell. Lovejoy certainly taps into a potent crazy vein. Combined with Ulrich, the Mitchell/Barzee couple, as scene here, are truly the stuff of nightmares.

As anyone who watches them regularly will likely agree, Lifetime movies are hit and miss. I Am Elizabeth Smart is firmly in the former category, offering a compelling re-telling of an important story.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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