Matthew McConaughey has an easy, thoughtful chemistry with Sandra Bullock and Ashley Judd, who play the two women in his life, and if he can keep his head on straight, he will remain the major player he has become with this good movie.
"A Time To Kill" is a big, glossy courtroom drama that fires emotional grenades into the hearts of its audience. Novelist John Grisham, director Joel Schumacher, and scriptwriter Akiva Goldsman have told a good story with actors who are consistently professional, sometimes spellbinding. In the grand old manner of 50s idealism, this is Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, a four-decades-later look at racial hatred, a field of dead dreams.
In a gut-wrenching rape scene, two beer-swilling rednecks destroy a 10-year-old girl carrying a bag of groceries home to her mother. The girl's father, Carl Lee Hailey (Samuel L. Jackson), exacts his own vengeance by mowing them down on the courthouse stairs. The movie is now driven by the complexities of both racism and of vigilante justice.
In the case of Carl Lee Hailey, for the defense: Jake Brigance (Matthew McConaughey), a young lawyer who has inherited the law practice of the legendary Lucien Wilbanks (Donald Sutherland), a disbarred social reformer. Standing with Jake is a small band of believers: Ellen Roark (Sandra Bullock), a rich, bright Yankee liberal; Ethel (Brenda Fricker), Jake's long suffering secretary; and Harry Rex Vonner (Oliver Platt), a rumpled southern dandy going quickly to seed.
For the prosecution: Rufus Buckley (Kevin Spacey), the strutting prosecutor who would be governor; the judge, (Patrick McGoohan); and an assortment of slick opportunists smelling their big moment in the national spotlight.
Outside the courthouse, the black population smolders. The northern equation of submission or rebellion isn't operative here. The choice is submission or annihilation. This is Canton, Mississippi, and blacks can't talk back.
Casting wantonly about for a fitting identity in the ugly waters of Christian fundamentalism and generalized hatred, the rednecks decide to resurrect the moribund Ku Klux Klan. Covered in hoods and the ashes of burning crosses, they exact a terrible price that tests the resolve of Carl Lee Hailey's defenders.
Lucien Wilbanks once said to Jake, "What I can offer you is the chance to save the world, one case at a time." When Jake is about two steps into saving the world, his loyal secretary says, "You wagered all our lives on this. Some folks think that's brave. I think we've all lost." In a beautifully articulated performance, Samuel L. Jackson delivers the rebuttal to that sentiment.
The movie manages the neat trick of refusing to be undone by its own considerable implausibility. It succeeds because of its actors. You will remember Tonea Stewart as wife and mother, Charles S. Dutton as Sheriff Ozzie Walls, Kiefer Sutherland as a barbarian.
And you will certainly remember Matthew McConaughey. With his chiseled face and flyaway ducktail, he could easily have chosen to posture. Instead, he underplays to great effect. He has an easy, thoughtful chemistry with Sandra Bullock and Ashley Judd, who play the two women in his life, and if he can keep his head on straight, he will remain the major player he has become with this good movie.
Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 500
Studio : Warner Bros.
Rating : R
Running Time: 2h30m
Copyright (c) Illusion
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