A Time To Kill: A Review by Nate Hill 

Ahh, the courtroom drama. Or, in Joel Schumacher’s A Time To Kill’s case, the fired up courtroom scorcher. A massive team of actors gather together here to tell the hot blooded tale of one African American man on trial for a brutal murder that is seen by many as justified, but to the prosecutor working the case is just another statistic that will help him vault over the pole to his next suit & tie victory. It’s based on a book by John Grisham, and Schumacher also adapted his story The Client, with admirable but less energetic results. This is one my favourite courtroom films, mainly due to the feverish energy of the American South that thrums beneath events like a heart ready to beat out of its chest. Every character has a mad glint in their eye and an epic film of sweat drenching them, and it’s easy to see why when you examine the high stakes, hot tempered powder keg of a trial they are involved in. Samuel L. Jackson is brilliant as Carl Lee, a simple African man accused of mercilessly gunning down two cracker asses (one of which is a grimy Kiefer Sutherland). These two punks are responsible for the rape and prolonged brutalization of Carl’s twelve year old daughter. A righteous knee jerk reaction for anyone, right? Try convincing a jury in the South of that. Conflict flares up faster than the fire adorning the crosses left on lawns by the arriving KKK, and soon the pressure is on to find the perfect prosecutor and defender for his case. Young upstart Jake Brigans (Matthew McConaughey) is picked to defend, facing off against a seasoned and annoyingly smug prick played by Kevin Spacey. Jake is blessed with the ingenuity and intuition of a law clerk (Sandra Bullock, excellent) and the sagely patronage of a veteran lawman played by a salty Donald Sutherland. It’s a tricky case though, with tempers and racial tension running high and a near constant air of danger for people on both sides of the table. Lee stands by his choice and boils in righteous fury that doesn’t quell the hurt once it’s simmered down, something which Jackson achingly imparts. Jake is swept up in the spectacle of it all, until his relationship with his wife (Ashley Judd) and finally his very life are at stake. Bullock brings the sanity of the big city to this backwater set melodrama and gives some of the best work of the film. Morality is tentatively explored, even though it’s clear as day that Lee was completely justified in his actions, and the outcome of the trial should reflect this. That sentiment is right there with the film’s title. But does it? You’ll have to watch and see. The epic cast lineup also includes work from Oliver Platt, Brenda Fricker, Kurtwood Smith, Charles S. Dutton, Patrick McGoohan, Nicky Katt, Beth Grant, Anthony Heald, Octavia Spencer, M. Emmett Walsh and a moving Chris Cooper in a small role. It’s a long film, but it sustains its energy and pace for the duration, with McConaughey’s refusal to buck the horse and throw the trial a key asset in letting us feel the hurt of a community torn inside out in one act of flagrant evil. It’s up to him and his crew not to right that wrong (realism dictates that it’s too late), but to give a modicum of solace to those further endangered by the very same evil. A winner.

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