A Time to Kill (1996)

The 27th film I have seen in theaters…

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A stupidly talented cast is directed by Joel Schumacher in this excellent legal drama.

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A ten-year-year old black girl is kidnapped and raped by two white men in Mississippi. She survives and the responsible parties are arrested. Ahead of the trial, the girl’s father, Carl Hailey, hires attorney Jake Brigance to represent the family. Jake admits to Carl that there is a chance the rapists will be acquitted. At the courthouse, Carl shows up with an automatic and kills the rapists, injuring a courthouse deputy.

Jake represents Carl in the subsequent trial over the shooting as a national spotlight shines on this town and the KKK shows up outside the courthouse. 

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This movie is stacked. Even the small roles are Oscar caliber performers. For the sake of brevity (this being “the skinny”), we will focus on the leads.

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Future Oscar Winner Matthey McConaughey (and possible Texas Gubernatorial candidate) plays Jake Brigance. This was probably the first film I’d seen him in, and one of his best early roles. He is still around and became an excellent actor.

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Sandra Bullock plays Ellen Roark, a law student who helps Brigance. This was one of the early “presitge” roles for her. She had already appeared in Speed and was extremely well known when this came out. I first knew her from “Love Potion #9” and “Demolition Man”. She would go on, like McConaughey, to win numerous awards, including the Oscar. She is still acting and remains at the top of her game.

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Samuel L Jackson plays Carl Lee, the accused. There’s honestly not much I can say here. Everyone knows Jackson and the caliber of performance he is capable of. He is in top form in this movie. He is still acting today, and is easily the most popular and prolific actor in the world, appearing in over 150 films including Jurassic Park, Star Wars, and the Marvel films.

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Separating the art from the artist is difficult. Kevin Spacey is, unquestionably, one of the best actors of his generation. A winner of the coveted Oscar, he can act, sing and is truly astonishing to watch. He has not gone to court, but is accused of sexual advances towards actor Anthony Rapp, then underaged. There have been numerous claims of improper sexual harassment. It was revealed to be an open secret in Hollywood. He hasn’t acted since 2018. He was one of my favorite actors. He now stands alongside some of my favorite directors (Woody Allen, Roman Polanski) in my admiration of their talent and disgust at their character.

Now, the remaining actors: Oliver Platt, Charles S Dutton, Brenda Fricker, Donald AND Keifer Sutherland, Patrick McGoohan, Ashley Judd, Chris Cooper, Kurtwood Smith, Anthony Heald, and M Emmet Walsh. Holy shit, that’s a lot of talent.

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It was the mid 1990’s and I enjoyed John Grisham’s novels. They were some of the best sellers of that time. I went with a friend to see this, taking his car. We did not realize how long the film was and had to LEAVE THE CINEMA during the closing arguments so that he could go to work. I did not see the end of this damn movie for 2 years. lol. This does run a tad long, but the performances are spectacular. Although the name Joel Schumacher is a curse amongst many comic fans, for Batman and Robin, he was a very talented guy.

What I liked about this film is that it was somewhat of a twist on the “white savior” trope. On the surface, this seems to be the typical white guy swoops in to save the black guy. What turns this sideways is an admission towards the end of the film where Carl Lee (Jackson) explains to Brigance that he hired him as his lawyer BECAUSE he is white. He knows the racism of that community and that they’d never be fair with a black man. He hires Brigance because he knows they’ll take him seriously. Good stuff.

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