A young lawyer defends a black man accused of murdering two white men who raped his 10-year-old daughter, sparking a rebirth of the KKK.
**It's a good movie, but I've seen better courtroom dramas.** I saw this film not long ago and was very impressed with its quality. I didn't know, however, that it was based on a novel by John Grisham (I've never read it, and I have doubts if it was translated into Portuguese), and based very lightly on the emotional testimony of a young girl victim of rape. It should be noted, moreover, and by mere curiosity, that, in the real case behind the novel, the victim was a white girl and the man accused of having raped her was black. In summary, it's very good, but it's not a perfect film, and it pales in comparison to other much more consistent and effective courtroom dramas. Joel Schumacher is the director of this movie, and that's really surprising me because his work rarely pleases me. I was able to appreciate the qualities of “Number 23”, the beauty and musicality of “Phantom of the Opera” were able to captivate me, but on the other hand, I hate the two “Batman” films he made, and I felt that “8 mm” is one of those films full of potential that ends up not living up to expectations. And then, this movie. And I'm still wondering whether I should consider the director responsible for the film's biggest weaknesses, or as a redeeming work that shows that, despite the crap, Schumacher had some talent. The cast is strong. Despite the downward trajectory that his career has taken after his consecration, Matthew McConaughey is in good shape here and gives the public an enjoyable job. It's not the actor's best, it's nothing original, especially if we think about courtroom dramas, but it's effective and it looks credible. Samuel L. Jackson also does a good job, but the character is the most ambiguous in the film, and he can be a villain or a hero depending on our opinion (and the film makes an effort to sell him a hero). Kevin Spacey is good in a highly stereotyped character, and Donald Sutherland gives an air of his grace when the material allows. Less interesting were the appearances of Kiefer Sutherland and Sandra Bullock. Technically, it's a low-key film, without major visual strokes or effects, which is good as it gives all the necessary space to the story and the actors' performance. It does, however, have good cinematography, a clever use of filming locations and sets, and also good costumes. It's a little long for the story it brings, but that fact doesn't constitute a very serious problem here. The story has problems that we have to consider. It begins beautifully, presenting the opening incident with shocking colors and tones. The scene where the father kills his daughter's rapists is also incredibly well done, but the rest, and especially the scenes outside the courtroom, are bland. Bullock's character is so expendable that it was preferable that it had never been added: she appears to throw some adulterous romance into the script, but that never goes beyond a succession of flirtations because the main character does not have the nerve to really cheat on his wife. For the rest, she gives him some good ideas, aiding an incompetent lawyer to do a job well done, but that would have been better if it had come from Donald Sutherland, giving him a greater utility and better material. I had serious problems with the trial of this film, starting with the judge's attempts to focus the facts on the death of the rapists. This would never be acceptable by a real court or a real defense, considering that, after the obvious failure of the transient insanity claims, the defense would have to rely on a clean criminal record, good citizenship and a truckload of extenuating circumstances in order to lighten the penalty to which that man was fatally to be condemned. And the most credible and convincing mitigating factor for a judge or jury would be, exactly, the enormous commotion that the rape would have caused, leading that father to act in a way that would have been impossible under other circumstances. And the insertion of the KKK in the film, not being a problem in itself, only serves to exaggerate a racial problem that is already there and that doesn't need to be exaggerated anymore.
The opening scenes of this movie are the sort that stay with you for ever: the brutal assault and murder of a young girl by two rednecks in Mississippi. Before their trial, they are gunned down in the courthouse by the girl's bereft father "Carl Lee Hailey" (Samuel L. Jackson) and it falls to "Brigance" (Matthew McConaughey) to defend the man in a state riddled with institutional and communal bigotry. Kevin Spacey is effective as the DA ("Buckley") who assumes the all white jury will never countenance the murder of these two odious creatures by a black man, but he doesn't count on the resolution - despite threats to himself and to his family - of "Brigance" and of his feisty assistant "Ellen" (Sandra Bullock). Joel Schumacher really does capture the almost viscerally racist elements of John Grisham's book cleverly here with frequently potent, but not unnecessarily graphic, scenarios depicting just how "justice" was expected to flow, even though there is never any doubt about the guilt of either the initial rapists/killers or of her avenging father. McConaughey is super. Sure, he has the boy next door looks but here, also, he portrays his determined character in a convincing manner. So does Bullock - demonstrating, through one especially harrowing scene, that she has more to her than we see with her more regular smart-mouthed comical roles. As ever, Patrick McGoohan excels - this time as the aptly named judge "Noose" and both Donald and Kiefer Sutherland and a few short scenes from Oscar winning Brenda Fricker all serve to demonstrate that there is still some semblance of hope (and futility) against the inherently malevolent prevailing attitudes of the time. The closing speech at the end from "Brigance" is especially potent. SLJ was nominated for a Golden Globe, his appearances are fine but sparing, but there was a curious dearth of plaudits for McConaughey which I found astonishing - he holds the threads of this menacing, at times quite sickening drama together well till the end. Not an easy watch, but well worth it.