SXSW 2017 Review: THE MOST HATED WOMAN IN AMERICA

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

Since the 1960s, the name Madalyn Murray O’Hair became synonymous with atheism.  Her political activism made her famous, but her brash, sometimes abrasive personality made her infamous.  Writer/director Tommy O’Haver has made a biopic about the controversial Murray O’Hair that details some of her battles to separate church from government and educational institutions, makes allegations of embezzlement and recreates the events that led to her murder and the murders of her granddaughter Robin and son Jon Garth.  The film also offers a riveting portrait of a strong-willed woman whose unfiltered and unrestrained tenacity made her not only one of the most disliked people in America, but also a difficult person to love as a daughter, mother, wife and friend.

Writer/director Tommy O’Haver, who co-wrote the screenplay with Irene Turner, has made a truly fascinating and dynamic movie that celebrates the impact of Madalyn Murray O’Hair’s work, and also critiques her character flaws and the downside of her obstinance.  The film can boast outstanding performances by actors Peter Fonda (Reverend Harrington), Sally Kirkland (Lena Christina), Josh Lucas (David Waters), Adam Scott (Jack Ferguson), Juno Temple (Robin Murray O’Hair), and Vincent Kartheiser (William Murray O’Hair).  Actress Melissa Leo delivers a phenomenal performance as incomparable Madalyn Murray O’Hair and beautifully invokes her fiery spirit, passion, and sometimes caustic personality.  To be fair to the late Ms. Murray O’Hair, Leo and the filmmakers do make a point of showing her more loving and caring side.  They all do an exceptional job of presenting a more complete view of a person best known for her antagonistic nature.  The movie is currently available for streaming on Netflix and is one I highly recommend.

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