Think of Sean Connery, Laurence Fishburne, Ed Harris, Ruby Dee, Hope Lange, Chris Sarandon, and then imagine them twisting in the wind, left there to die by the director and the scriptwriters.

JUST CAUSE

A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.


"Just Cause" has a cast that would protect any movie from failure--except this one. Think of Sean Connery, Laurence Fishburne, Ed Harris, Ruby Dee, Hope Lange, Chris Sarandon, and then imagine them twisting in the wind, left there to die by the director and the scriptwriters.

Instead of twisting slowly, to use John Ehrlichman's favorite phrase, they spin madly in a torrent of manufactured violence that borrows blatantly from "Fatal Attraction" and "Cape Fear." Derivative violence is not an especially admirable thing.

The discouraging part of all this is that the movie grabs us in the opening scene and builds the tension beautifully for a half-hour or so before shooting itself in the temple. By the time it self-destructs, we are actually interested in the characters, who jump immediately beyond stereotype through the excellent acting of the very fine cast.

And then it happens. Quite suddenly we are awash in alligators, knives, guns, the electric chair and rape. Around our wonderful performers, Disney-like gators with electroglow eyes move mechanically and menacingly, promising the audience a ghastly meal later on. It is embarrassing to contemplate a director's childish pride in dangling the "When will it happen?" question over our heads.

The movie moves from detective story to horror show: to Ed Harris, in full ranting insanity as he prepares to die in the electric chair; to murderers gleeful in their sick pleasure; to maggot-infested corpses. The whole thing smacks of Hollywood's notion of how to scare children, a combination of "Jurassic Park" and "Jaws" that cripples the potential of a good mystery. If you're still on board, let's look at the small bit of good news. Sean Connery, Lawrence Fishburne and Blair Underwood make compelling work of the main characters. Connery is a Harvard law professor who follows his liberal idealism south to free an innocent man on death row. He captures the claustrophobic reality of being a Northerner on the wrong side of the law in a Southern town. Fishburne is memorable as a small-town Florida cop, a volatile mix of violence and honesty; Underwood plays his antagonist, the innocent and articulate victim of the system. Beyond their very interesting performances, it is pure pleasure to watch Sean Connery, who is just as much a class act as an elder as he was as Mr. Bond. That's it on the upside.

Inexcusably, this movie is ultimately and profoundly dishonest. As careful as the filmmakers have been to make sure a black man's violence to whites is balanced by a white man's brutality to blacks, they are still guilty of capitalizing on the explosive currents of today's racial unrest. By voicing, in a deeply frightening way, the ugly fears that underlie the daily headlines, they become thoroughly irresponsible. Racial rage, police brutality, rape and willful humiliation are commanding topics, but commercializing them in a badly made thriller is a cheap shot.


Film Critic: JOAN ELLIS
Word Count: 494
Studio: Warner Bros.
Rating: R 1h42m


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