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Jon Voight Takes Hallmark for a Different Ride
August 19, 2016  | By David Hinckley

You might think Jon Voight’s patriarch character in a Hallmark movie would be several galaxies removed from the patriarch he plays in Showtime’s dark drama Ray Donovan.

Then you watch Hallmark’s J.L. Family Ranch, which premieres Sunday at 9 p.m. ET, and you find yourself instead noticing how much they have in common.

In J.L. Family Ranch, Voight plays John Landsburg, a Texas rancher who loves the land that his pappy and his grandpappy fought so hard to tame and keep.

John’s mission is passing this legacy down to his own children like his daughters Regan (Abby Brammell) and Rebecca (Teri Polo), who it turns out has inherited the largest dose of John’s DNA.

Naturally there is an impediment to his dream, and it rides up in the form of Tap Peterson (James Caan, left), an old colleague and rival of John’s.

The Petersons and the Landsburgs have a long history and it turns out Tap is nursing a grudge that goes back more than a century.

So Tap, now a millionaire, has bought himself some public officials with whose help he hopes to have John’s land condemned for some bogus public project.

Not all of the land, of course. Just the parcel with the well, which would effectively cut off the water supply to all the rest of John’s property and reposition the J.L. Family Ranch as the new dust bowl.

The movie focuses on how John and his family respond to this threat, as they gradually learn the true nature of Tap’s insidious mission.

The climactic scene is one you won’t see in many movies. We won’t spoil it here, but it involves the government and paints citizens like John in a much different light than we normally see in this situation.

This being a Hallmark movie and all, we have a reasonable degree of confidence that things will work out. But it has greater range than many Hallmark movies, and Voight in particular gives a nicely nuanced performance.

What will interest fans of Voight’s much less admirable character on Ray Donovan, where he plays the unreconstructed criminal and killer Mickey Donovan, is that both John and Mickey justify almost everything they do as a way to protect and sustain their families.

In John’s case, that means leaving his children a viable working ranch, so they can have the life he had.

In Mickey’s case, it means being able to buy them nice stuff with stolen money and keeping them from getting murdered by people that Mickey has crossed over the years.

Unlike Mickey, John tries to operate within the law. He was the town sheriff for several years. But when he must choose between strict adherence to legal policy and standing up for what he believes is right, strict adherence loses that faceoff.

Like Mickey, John moves deliberately. He speaks like someone who is set in his ways, as they say, but also uses his experience to understand what others around him are trying to do.

Mickey Donovan wouldn’t last 10 minutes in John Landsburg’s life. It would drive him crazy without a con to keep things lively. But he’d write the same epitaph about his life, that in the end he did what he had to do for his family.

The two shows themselves may be yin and yang, but Voight builds an interesting bridge between.

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