Tag Archives: Patrick McGoohan

Joel Schumacher’s A Time To Kill

Many adaptations of John Grisham’s work have shown up in Hollywood, some great and others not so much, but for my money it doesn’t get any better than Joel Schumacher’s A Time To Kill. There’s something fired up about this story, a heartfelt and desperate aura to the high stakes moral maelstrom that Samuel L. Jackson and Matthew McConaughey find themselves in here. Jackson is Carl Lee Hailey, husband and father in America’s Deep South who opens up an AK-47 on the two redneck crackers who raped his eight year old daughter and left her for dead on the side of the road. McConaughey is Jake Brigance, the slick attorney hired to defend him who first seeks the limelight, then wishes he didn’t and finally becomes so morally invested in Carl’s case that it begins to unravel both his own life, not to mention stir up racial tensions all over the county.

Was Carl justified in these murders, given the situation? Should he be set free? Will the trial be a fair, civilized event given the fact that he’s a black man from the south in a time where they were not treated justly or as equals? The answer to that third question is definitely not because soon the Klan gets involved, the entire judiciary system itself gets put on trial and the whole state erupts in hot blooded anger over the situation. Jackson is fierce and vulnerable in the role, Never defaulting to the trademark detached, noisy brimstone that has become his thing but letting the hurt and righteous fury emanate from within organically, it’s probably his best work. McConaughey gets the sweaty desperation right and you begin to feel the uncomfortable nature of the situation creeping up on him until before he knows it there’s a burning cross on his lawn and his wife (Ashley Judd) is ready to leave him. Sandra Bullock does fine work as his legal assistants who, being an idealist, works for free because she believes in the cause rather than money or notoriety, the latter of which she receives whether she likes it or not. Kevin Spacey lays on the sleazy attitude as the loudmouth prosecuting lawyer who, naturally, hits below the belt in his tactics. An unbelievable roster of supporting talent shows up including Chris Cooper, Kiefer Sutherland, Brenda Fricker, Oliver Platt, Kurtwood Smith, M. Emmett Walsh, Anthony Heald, Charles Dutton, Raéven Kelly, Patrick McGoohan, Nicky Katt, Doug Hutchison, Beth Grant, Octavia Spencer and Donald Sutherland as a charismatic old alcoholic lawyer who serves as Jake’s mentor and voice of reason.

This film can sort of be used as a barometer to measure moral dilemmas and see through the weak spots of the justice system, of which there are many. Were Carl’s murders justified? I think so, given the heinous nature of the crimes against his daughter. But the ensuing racial turmoil, petty battle of legal wills and outside-the-courtroom power struggle sort of clouds that until the film reaches a barbaric fever pitch of violence and terror, until Jake calmly and directly cuts through all of that and turns the mirror on a whole community with his heartbreaking final address to the jury, after which it’s so dead silent you could hear a pin drop. It’s a bold, fantastic piece of acting from McConaughey and some of his best work also, in a brilliant film.

-Nate Hill

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SCANNERS – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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For a good part of his career, David Cronenberg has been fascinated by secret societies, be it the New Age-y psychotherapist and his patients in The Brood (1979) or the people addicted to an immersive video game in eXistenZ (1999). With Scanners (1981), he explored a small, but growing number of people endowed with mental abilities that allowed them to read other people’s thoughts or literally blow their minds. This is evident in the film’s most iconic scene where a character blows up another’s head. This premise eerily mirrors Brian De Palma’s The Fury (1978), but where it was more of a conventional thriller, Scanners incorporated more cerebral ideas as some of Cronenberg’s characters see themselves as the next rung in the evolutionary ladder.

Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack) leads a vagabond lifestyle and is kidnapped and brought to Dr. Paul Ruth (Patrick McGoohan) who works for a mysterious corporation called ConSec. He tells Vale that he is a “scanner”, someone with telepathic abilities and proceeds to teach him how to use his powers. Ruth soon finds himself at odds with Braedon Keller (Lawrence Dane), head of security at ConSec and who is secretly in cahoots with Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside), the leader of an underground group of scanners. Ruth sends Vale to infiltrate Revok’s group and the film builds to an inevitable confrontation between the two powerful scanners.

Stephen Lack, who came from a performance artist background, delivers a wonderfully idiosyncratic performance as Vale, a man who is initially uncomfortable in his own skin, but gradually becomes more confident as he learns how to control his abilities. In one of his career-defining roles, Michael Ironside is excellent as the malevolent Revok who sees himself as a Che Guevara-type figure. Lack and Ironside’s contrasting acting styles compliment their adversarial characters nicely.

Scanners was part of a fantastic run of early films that Cronenberg wrote and directed himself as he explored the dark intersection where the science fiction and horror genres converged. The success of this film spawned two lackluster sequels that Cronenberg wisely had no involvement in. Unlike The Fury, Scanners goes into much more detail about how these mental abilities work and how they can be harnessed as evident in a scene where Ruth teaches Vale how to accelerate a man’s heartbeat, almost killing him. Cronenberg goes further than simply pitting good scanners vs. bad, but also touching upon the notion that they may be the next step in human evolution.