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"The Long Island Incident' exposes our best and worst

Intelligence, a rich sense of humanity, moral purpose and strong production values light up this "Ms. McCarthy Goes to Washington" story.

The Long Island Incident is a powerful recounting of unexpected consequences that arose from the horrific massacre of commuters riding a train to the suburbs from New York's Penn Station. Maria Nation's excellent script captures the rarely depicted irrationality and unpredictability of modern life and strips away the cynical hypocrisy that characterizes much of contemporary politics.

Director Joseph Sargent is at his best depicting this most American of tales, one that joins the worst and best that society offers. The portrayal of overfed pols speaking evasive, meaningless pap would be heavy-handed if it weren't so accurate. Sargent does an especially fine job presenting the events leading up to the violence and the incident itself.

However, Long Island Incident isn't so much about the perpetrator and the horror; rather, it is about the survivors' courage and their frustration with a system that fails to protect its citizens against even the most obvious dangers _ automatic weapons and hollow-point bullets.

So when Carolyn McCarthy's husband is killed and her son seriously wounded, against all odds of his recovery, she nurses him back to health. And when Congress votes down legislation that would ban automatic weapons, she decides to run for office.

Laurie Metcalf is perfectly cast as McCarthy, bringing out nuance by nuance the strength, determination, common sense and grit that must have always existed just beneath the facade of a reticent, suburban housewife. Her performance is a pleasure to watch.

Mackenzie Astin does a good job as her son, Kevin, and the two actors convey a real sense of family closeness. Peter MacNeill is engaging in a part that is all too short, as was the life of the man he plays, Dennie McCarthy. Elisa Moolecherry, Cedric Smith, Greg Ellwand and Lawrence Dane provide believable support.

Tyrone Benskin is chilling as Colin Ferguson, whose inner chaos destroyed so much when it was unleashed on the outside world. His impaired thought and enormous rage combine to produce a frightening individual, and Benskin brings all that and more to the screen.

The intercutting of scenes of the media, TV screen inserts and home videos works well, illuminating the ever-more-intimate relationship between real life and screen life.