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on March 23, 2000
John Grisham novels are difficult to rate as movies. On one hand Grisham's work translates to well to pop culture that his books are almost cinematic. On the other, the "book-is-never-as-good-as-the-movie"-ism applies. Some of Grisham's books have been quite good- "The Firm" was a terrifically exciting movie (Tom Cruise was letter-perfect for the role of Mitch McDeere), and "The Rainmaker" (which gave Matt Damon his start) certainly surprised me with a touching story of an underdog who upsets the system. Some have been mediocre to bad- "The Pelican Brief" and "The Chamber" fit the latter category, "The Client" the former. "A Time to Kill", in my opinion, is the best of them all because the author gives his audience a tough choice to make about what justice is. Pack in some sterling acting performances and this is one pretty darn good movie.
The plot? After his young daughter is viciously raped and assaulted by rednecks (no, John Rocker doesn't have a cameo), Samuel L. Jackson guns down the two assailents on their way to court. He is subsequently put on trial by the local DA, and defended by an idealistic white attorney. Jackson's trial becomes a swirling tempest for local hatreds to be aired.
Director Joel Schumacher certainly surprised me with good work, despite being the man who made "Batman & Robin". It helps to assemble some serious acting talent- Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey (the DA) are both recognized actors (Spacey having won an Oscar for "The Usual Suspects", and Jackson is *long* overdue for getting one himself), so the big surprise was Matthew McConaughey's sterling performance as the idealistic, passionate attorney who defends Jackson. McConaughey is a terrific actor- laid back, easy-going but with just enough passion and intensity. This movie put him on the map and it is easy to see why he is a talent in demand. Sandra Bullock and Ashley Judd have roles here but don't make much of an impression. Donald Sutherland and Keifer both have parts too- the former as Matthew McConaughey's mentor (a role he's quite good in, incidentally) and the latter as a local redneck.
Finally, a word about the plot: the best movies give us a sticky problem that can't be resolved easily. The tricky choice in "Crimson Tide" is a beautiful example of a decision that could go either way and gives the audience something to debate about afterwards. Here we're given a tricky choice- vengeance or justice? Do we acquit Samuel L. Jackson because in our hearts he did what we all would do in his place? Or do we punish him for taking the law into his own hands? It's a rough choice to make, and the movie refuses to give us an easy answer.
Well done.
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on April 13, 2000
I saw this movie shortly after it came to video and thought it was a pretty good movie. Then a couple years later, I saw it again. And it just kind of stuck in my brain. I'll be reading or listening to something, and it will remind me of the movie. In conversations I bring up this film all the time because it is so relevant to important issues of our time. Racism, vigilante action, legal issues, etc. The more you watch this movie, the more it makes you think.
And if you're not interested in thinking about some of the larger philosophical issues at hand, there's still plenty of stuff for you. You've got Matthew McConaughey who does a phenomenal job, and looks great while at it. Oliver Platt imbues his character with just the right amount of sleaze and charm that you can't help but love him. Donald Sutherland is absolutely lovable as the old-school gentleman (and you and your friends can argue over whether he's a lush or or a drunk/alcoholic). Sandra Bullock does a believable job, and the men tend to find Ashley Judd rather attractive in this role. And let's not forget Samuel L. Jackson, who makes his character so real that you understand the situation he's in and why he does what he does.
So basically, there's something for everyone here. Thinking stuff with good looking people (male and female) who act well. Can't go wrong with this one.
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on February 16, 2001
John Grisham's tale of justifiable revenge was one of the best films of 1996. When a black man kills the two white rednecks who brutally raped and beat his daughter it seems his conviction of the murders will be cut and dry. So when the small town's lawyer is asked by the man (played with masterful skill by Samuel L. Jackson) to defend him it seems a hopeless cause. But when the klan gets involved the case becomes personal.
This film is entirely unsettling because it makes us realize that events like this still happen in small towns throughout America, especially in the South. The themes of racism, of overcoming racism, of justifiable homicide, of justice outside the law are so superbly represented in this film that it seems impossible to me that this movie wasn't nominated for many Academy Awards. But alas, the past is the past. Chock full of great performances (especially Matthew McConaughey, Samuel L. Jackson, and Kevin Spacey) and masterful direction by Joel Schumacher, A Time to Kill is one heck of a movie. A true classic.
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on June 6, 2003
With an ensemble cast featuring the likes of Kevin Spacey, Sandra Bullock, Matthew McConaughey, Samuel Jackson, Ashley Judd, Kiefer and Donald Sutherland, Charles S. Dutton and Oliver Platt to name a few, you can safely bet that you won't be disappointed.
I never get tired of watching this movie, which stars McConaughey as Jake Brigance, a relatively small-time lawyer until he is tapped to defend Carl Lee Hailey (Jackson) for the murder of two men who raped his young daughter, in the single-biggest and most controversial trial Clanton, MS has ever seen. McConaughey's performance is beyond inspiring as he turns his own life and the lives of those around him completely upside down by agreeing to represent a black murderer in a white-dominated Southern community. Playing his wife is Ashley Judd who is gut-wrenching in her own right. Sandra Bullock shines in every single role. Her work here as legal assistant Ellen Roark is top-notch, even for Bullock. Even Spacey, who I normally despise, is sterling as D.A. Buckley, the condescending adversary of Brigance. My most recent viewing of the film even compelled me to finally pick up the book, which is equally intense an experience as the film. You can't miss this.
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on January 11, 2004
Okay, here's the deal: I love this movie. "A Time to Kill" is one of those flicks that I can watch over and over, so when I found it marked down on DVD at a local store, I bought it. I've long since spent more than the purchase price on renting it in VHS.
Matthew McConaughey is incredibly hot, and almost a decent actor. Samuel L. Jackson is fabulous, as usual (ohmigod). Sandra Bullock, I love Sandra Bullock (got a girl-crush on her a mile wide), and I love, love, love Oliver Platt in this movie. There's a moment when Sandra Bullock's character is frustrated at not being able to find the information she needs, and she says to Platt's character (a cheerfully shameless divorce lawyer named Harry Rex), "I've asked myself, 'What would Lucien do?' and 'What would Jake do?' and "What would my *father* do?' but I just can't figure it out."
And Platt's character says, "Well, there's your problem right there. You need to ask yourself, 'What would Harry Rex do?'"
"Okay, what would Harry Rex do?"
"Cheat. Cheat like crazy."
God, I love him.
And it's great having the movie on DVD. It makes it easy to fast-forward through the horrific scenes of the little girl being attacked at the beginnng of the film. There's no reason for anybody to have to sit through that more than once. ::shudder::
But there's a problem with this DVD. A big problem, that I think people should know about before they buy it. I wish I had known. I probably would have bought it anyway, but I'm still frustrated.
The movie is continued on the back of the disk. It's a two-sided DVD, and the first half of the movie is on the first side, and the second half is on the reverse.
Yes, you have to get up halfway through the movie, go over to the DVD player, and turn the disk over, just like this was 1975 and you were still playing records on vinyl LPs.
For the life of me, I cannot figure out what in the everloving HELL they were thinking about, doing this. The movie isn't that long. There's not that much in the way of extra features on the disk. I feel like sending them an email, letting them know what I think about it, but there have probably been plenty of people who have already done that. I'll spend the time warning other potential buyers, instead.
Caveat emptor.
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VINE VOICEon November 15, 2004
What would it take to duplicate the cast of this film? Made only eight years ago I'd think today you'd break the bank putting together:

Matthew McConaughey

Sandra Bullock

Samuel L. Jackson

Kevin Spacey

Oliver Platt

Charles Dutton

Donald Sutherland

Kiefer Sutherland

Patrick McGoohan

Ashley Judd

Chris Cooper

The story is in some ways rather straightforward. Samuel Jackson's 10 year old daughter is raped and tortured by two rednecks in the opening minutes. Mercifully, the girl lives through the event and the two rednecks are arrested. Thinking that in Mississippi they're going to be acquitted "like them boys raped that girl last year" Samuel's Carl Lee Haley asks Matthew's Southern Lawyer Jake Brigance if he'd "help him out if he got into some trouble", then takes an M-16 and shoots the rednecks on the way to a court hearing, destroying Deputy Chris Cooper's leg in the process.

The rest of the movie seems pretty straight-forward, almost predictably so. Jake is tasked with defending a black man in Mississippi of murders which were committed in full sight of many people, including Jake himself and several law officers. Kiefer Sutherland, as the brother of one of the rednecks, enlists the assistance of the Klan to make sure that Carl "gets it" and to make sure that anyone attempting to help Carl is also intimidated (killed.... houses burned.... etc....) In this movie the Klan is a living, breathing entity with apparently much leeway to conduct its nefarious business.

Donald Sutherland is the alcoholic lawyer mentor of Jake - disbarred for some police violence during some political activism. Kevin Spacey is the ambitious District Attorney with a nomination for Governor in his back pocket. Charles Dutton is the black sheriff who doesn't hesitate to stand toe to toe with the Klan - the scenes where Klan members are in any way subdued are due to this strong character. Ashley Judd is Jake's pretty Mississippi Sorority-Belle wife who initially thinks that Jake accepts Carl Lee's case to "prove what a big-time lawyer" he is. When the Klan tries bombing Jake's house Ashley packs up their daughter and heads to the grandparent's house. On the first day of the case a hotshot law student comes wheeling into town, played by Sandra Bullock, wanting to make her name stamping out the death penalty.

The story is told in a linear fashion, but the performances make this compelling stuff. The NAACP come to town to provide for Carl's defense, and the scene where Carl tells them "thanks but no thanks" brings a new closeness to Carl and Jake. The movie provides for some riveting moments from Jackson as Carl and McConaughey as Jake. I've read that Mr. McConaughey delivered the summation scene in a single take. It is an astonishing piece of acting. There are several shots of extras crying, and I can't help but wonder if this wasn't an honest response to his performance.

There is a scene before the last trial scene where Carl tells Jake that he has hung onto him as his lawyer because "you one of the bad guys, Jake. I needs the jury to see me like you see me". If there is a weakness in the way that the story is told, it's that the whole movie is told the way the all-white jury would see it. The other black characters are brief and one-dimensional. Carl Lee's wife is in several scenes - looking concerned but with almost no dialogue. Since her daughter is raped and tortured and her husband is on trial, shouldn't we care as much about what SHE thinks as Jake's wife? We spend a fair amount of time watching what the Klan is doing. Shouldn't we be at least as interested in what the black community is doing?

Jake sets out to "prove a black man can get a fair trial in Mississippi". But can he prove that vigilante justice is ok even if everyone in the community knows that in race-hate-crimes in the world of this film black people can't expect fair treatment?

The movie reverberates with echoes of "To Kill a Mockingbird". Or at least it wants to. For a film of this type I can't think of a more admirable goal.
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on May 8, 2006
With a cast as strong as this one theres no wonder the film was a hit...I found myself wondering how they got all of these big ticket actors to sign onto the same film and then it hit me...this is most likely the film that launched a lot of their careers. The story is a brutally honest one about racism in Mississippi in the year 1995. A young black girl, ten years old, is raped and beaten by two white red-necks and when the young girls father (Samuel L. Jackson) takes revenge into his own hands and murders the two men resposible he's arrested and a trial is held. The film revolves around this mans lawyer mostly, Jake (McConaughey) as his family and practice is placed under fire by a newly reformed KKK as his home is scortched and his partners are harassed and his wife and child are forced to leave town for their safty. The film calls into account morality over law...whats right and wrong isn't always black and white and not so easily determined. Acting on all fronts is strong, but it's Jackson who proves to be the light in this film as his tortured father suffers with every breath as he recounts what his baby went through. Kevin Spacey, Sandra Bullock, Oliver Platt, Keifer & Donald Sutherland, Ashley Judd and Chris Cooper all give brilliant performances in this powerhouse of a film that benifits from a great script and a steller cast.
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on April 27, 2016
Bad thing is only 1/2 of movie is on one side & 1/2 is on the other! I bought this movie (other one bought long ago) so that I didn't have to flip the DVD over during the movie; couldn't find out whether it was like that or not so ordered this one & it's the only movie of my 150+ that I have to flip on the other side; now I have 2 :(
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on August 4, 2014
First off all of the actors did an outstanding job. The dialogue was spot on. However, one must suspend disbelief throughout. Given the rather sensitive and profound nature of the movie, the way the plot unfolds is truly absurd. For instance, Sandra Bullock's character is kidnapped by the KKK and tied to a tree and left for dead. Keifer Sutherland's character, leader of the KKK, removes his hood to pronounce the death sentence on Sandra Bullock's character. She is freed by a KKK guy and taken to a hospital to recover. She is left there unprotected. Hmmm...ya think Keifer's character is just going to let her live to identify him. Of course not...but wait that is exactly what happens. This is but one example of the poorly constructed plot.
Worth watching for the acting, but leave your logical mind at the door.
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on March 17, 2006
THis is one of my favorite movies. Besides containing a stellar cast (Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Bullock, Sammuel L. Jackson, Oliver Platt, DOnald AND Keifer Sutherland, Kevin Spacey) You get the idea. Is there a cast member that ISN't a biggie? The casting is Genious, and the acting incredible. It's suspenseful, deep, VERY emotional.. slightly dark.. it's the perfect movie. Even the rape scene is well done by being comfortably vague while still haunting you.

A Time to kill's plot is pretty simply explained. In the deep south, a 10 year old black girl is raped by two wite rednecks, who almost kill her. A young white lawyer and father (Matthew McConaughey as Jake Brigance) is sickened at the news, and doesn't quite know what to think when the little girl's father (Sammuel L. Jackson as Carl Lee Hailey) pays him a visit and asks if he'd "help him if he were in a tight spot". The next day as the two redneck/monsters are being led up the stairs of the courthouse to their arraignment, Carl Lee Hailey pops out of a storage clauset with a machine gun and blows away the two young men that raped his daugher.

Jake Brigance agrees to defend Hailey as his murder trial begins. The insanity plea is used to "give the jury an excuse to aquit" But in my opinion, I think it was quite legitimate. What father WOULDN't be driven insane under the circumstances? the rest of the movie is Carl Lee Hailey's trial and the surrounding Drama as KKK violence emerges led by Kiefer Sutherland, and Jake's life and home are in danger, his relationship with his wife strained, and his career are seriously on the line in what seems to be a loosing battle.

My favorite scene? It might come as a surprise, but my favorite scene is when the Prosecution calls to the stand the policeman who was leading the two rednecks up the stairs to their trial. He was caught in the knee by a stray bullet, and now has half a leg. After the prosecution use the witness to incite rage against Carl Lee, and establish unerring identity of the shooter, The Defence asks him two questions.

"Do you think Carl Lee intentionally shot you?"


"Do you think he should be sent to prision for what he did?"

"He did what I would have done."

but it doesn't end there as the Policeman (remember he's missing a leg because of what Carl Lee Hailey Did) becomes very emotional and boldly confesses that if someone raped his little girl he would blow him away just like Carl Lee did. He starts screaming to the jury to "turn him loose, He's a hero!" I think this is one of the most emotion packed and well acted scenes (albeit there are many others too) (Great acting by Chris Cooper as the policeman)

Anyway.. forgive if I rambled. I love this movie and if you like courtroom dramas... star studded casts.. John Grisham...suspense thrillers..just all around good movies.. You need to see this.
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