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A Thief of Time

July 11, 2004

"A Thief of Time" was produced as part of a series of American Mystery!" specials on PBS. The shows are based on the best-selling novels of Tony Hillerman.

Hillerman's whodunits feature Lt. Joe Leaphorn and Officer Jim Chee solving mysteries in the New Mexico desert.

Thanks to Anne for this plot synopsis of "A Thief of Time":

The main plot of the story involves two Native American police officers searching for clues to the disappearance of an anthropologist.

Lee first appears about 30 minutes into the film. His character, Randall Elliot, is one of three scientists digging for ruins on Navajo land. The missing woman, Ellie Friedman-Bernal, was another, and Maxie Davis, a young woman with an attitude, was the third. It is revealed that Randall Elliot flew helicopters during the Gulf War. Someone remarks that Randall has a crush on Maxie.

In Lee's first scene, Detective Joe Leaphorn comes to talk to Randall and Maxie to find out when they'd last seen Ellie. Maxie helps them find a way into Ellie's house so they can search for clues. While there, Maxie makes less-than-flattering remarks about Ellie and her research. Randall seems surprised by Maxie's remarks and defends Ellie. He seems like such a nice guy. Ha! Don't be fooled.

Later that night, Leaphorn and Chee find a woman in Ellie's house. She tells them she was looking for something she'd left there. Then she invites them to her house for dinner. Maxie stops by with a bottle of wine and coaxes the men out to the yard. They all have wine. Randall shows up and joins them.

Maxie asks someone to walk her home. Randall thinks she's talking to him, but she indicates she's talking to Joe Leaphorn. You feel sorry for the guy -- pining away after someone who doesn't seem worthy of him.

Then there is a long time where the movie is Lee-less. The plot drags on. More interviews. Peter Fonda shows up as an ex-senator whose crazy son killed his wife and daughter. At the time, Leaphorn made sure that the police didn't hunt the son down. He reported that the boy drowned in the river, but in a flashback, we see that he gets away. Fonda winds up murdered, along with two other people. Part of the plot has to do with illegal trafficking of ancient pots found in the ruins. Don't ask me to explain, please. 

The next morning, Leaphorn goes over to Maxie's house. She's still sleeping, but for a moment, she seems to be dead. That's when I start suspecting Lee is the bad guy and I start cursing all the casting directors in Hollywood for typecasting him.

Leaphorn talks to the senator's housekeeper, who tells him the senator still went kayaking down the river despite his bad arthritis. Leaphorn takes the kayak and goes down the river, and suddenly he's the got the whole thing figured out. He arrives at this mountainous area and starts climbing. I have my eyes partially covered because I fear Lee/Randall is going to jump out and attack him.

Instead, the Senator's son, Graham, finds Leaphorn. Graham, who is still a bit off, takes Leaphorn to Ellie, who is lying inside a cave with a big wound on her head. She's still breathing though.

And voila, Randall shows up. How convenient. He's still doing the nice-guy routine and I really have to give Lee credit for almost making me believe it. He offers to help Leaphorn carry Ellie to his chopper so they can get her medical help. So, they make a stretcher and start carrying her down. 

Leaphorn starts getting suspicious when he doesn't see the helicopter in plain sight. "You flew helicopters in the Gulf. You could land it anywhere. Why isn't it closer?" he asks. Randall takes his gun out and threatens to kill Leaphorn. Leaphorn accuses him of piggybacking on Ellie's permits to dig and of killing the Senator and those other two people. "Why?" he asks.

Lee/Randall explains he was about to prove his theory that this ancient race of Indians actually existed and were wiped out when their gene pool got too small. I still don't get why he had to kill people to prove this, but oh well. Just as he's about to shoot Leaphorn, he gets an arrow in the back. Graham shoots him. And that's the end of Lee/Randall. 

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