Courtroom Dramas

12 Angry Men stars Henry Fonda as a juror who is unwilling to convict a young man accused of murder, and tries to win round the other eleven. It is superbly acted – all the action takes place in the jury room and the script is so well written that the lengthy monologues will not seem out of place even to Tarantino fans.

A Fish Called Wanda stars John Cleese as Barrister Archie Leech, representing a gang of jewel thieves. Jamie Lee Curtis plays the manipulative Wanda who seduces most of the male cast to secure the stolen diamonds while betraying her friends. After some chaotic courtroom scenes, the action hots up and boils over into a manic airport chase. The real star of the show is Kevin Kline’s Otto, in an excellent manic comedy role reminiscent of his portrayal of the Pirate King in “The Pirates of Penzance” and is tremendously funny.

A Time to Kill is an adaptation of a John Grisham novel, this film tells the story of a father (Samuel L. Jackson) facing charges of murder after he gunned down the (white) men who raped and killed his (black) daughter. Matthew McConaughey stars as the father’s attorney, with Sandra Bullock as a law student volunteer opposed to the death penalty. A good story and some nice in-court moments, too.

Amistad is based on the true story of a group of West African slaves claimed by the owners of Spanish ship “The Amistad”. Their advocate (and former US President) is played by Anthony Hopkins with skill. An absolutely astonishing film, gritty, but with some genuinely gripping courtroom moments. Also featuring one of the finest final lines of any film: “Take a letter, Ensign …”.

The Chamber is one Grisham book which struggles in its transition to the silver screen. The novel was a moving and intimate account of one man facing the death penalty. Gene Hackman plays the condemned man and does it well, but the film really falls flat. I loved the book, but couldn’t recommend the film, except to Grisham addicts.

Class Action stars Gene Hackman as a crusading liberal lawyer suing a car manufacturer for making cars which explode when they’re not supposed to. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio plays the lawyer defending the evil corporate giants, but she’s also his daughter.
A good courtroom movie, with the good guys triumphing over the odds (I think).

The Client features Susan Sarandon and Tommy Lee Jones on opposing sides in this Grisham thriller. A young boy and his even younger brother witness a murder. The prosecutor (Jones) wants them to testify, but the boy is concerned for his family’s safety. He hires a lawyer (Sarandon) for 1 dollar and she does her level best to secure a witness protection scheme for them (against all the odds, naturally).

Erin Brockovich stars Julia Roberts as the eponymous Brockovich, a para-legal who gets involved in a massive case against a nasty chemical company making townsfolk ill. She effectively wins the case single-handed by combining “honeytrap” research skills, a photographic memory and a genuine empathy with her clients. A Scots connection is the gel-filled Ultimo bra (created in Govan), playing a (ahem) quot;supporting” role. A very entertaining blockbuster, and a true story to boot.

The Firm stars Tom Cruise in another entertaining Grisham adaptation, telling the story of a promising young law graduate recruited by a top law firm, who turn out to be laundering money for the mob. The film follows his struggle to escape from their clutches with his wife (played by the attractive Jeanne Tripplehorn) and all his bodyparts intact.

My Cousin Vinny is an hugely entertaining comedy drama. Joe Pesci plays Vinny, representing his cousin who has been mistaken for an armed robber. His cousin accidentally admitted to the foul deed and Vinny has to pretend that he is qualified in law when he’s not. He then has to call his mouthy girlfriend as an expert witness and convince the judge (played by Herman Munster) of his cousin’s innocence. Good fun all round.

The Pelican Brief stars Julia Roberts (once more) this time as a law student, dating her professor (that’s not allowed, is it?). She writes an essay on environmental law (the titular pelican brief). Unfortunately, the brief seems to be causing a lot of people to be dead in suspicious circumstances – threatening her own life too. Denzel Washington co-stars as a journalist who helps her.

Primal Fear stars Richard Gere as an attorney representing an altar boy (Edward Norton) accused of the murder of the Archbishop. It has some good courtroom scenes, an interesting look at relations between opposing lawyers and a shocking twist in
the tale that I genuinely was not anticipating.

The Rainmaker. A “rainmaker” is a lawyer who brings their firm wheelbarrow loads of money. In this case the rainmaker is a law student who has only two cases, one of which happens to be worth one kazillion, gabillion dollars. Which is nice (oh, and he kills someone along the way too). Danny De Vito co-stars in this gripping story, well translated to the screen.