The Devil’s Advocate (1997) The Firm (1993) My Cousin Vinny (1992)
Keanu Reeves, Al Pacino Tom Cruise Joe Pesci, Marisa Tomei
Kevin Lomax, is an arrogant young attorney who has never lost a case. He joins a big New York firm that specializes in sleazy transnational clients and document shredding. Worst of all, John Milton, the managing partner, is The Devil. That’s right; Satan himself has figured out that being top gun in a Wall Street firm is the “ultimate backstage pass. It’s the new priesthood." The Devil’s Advocate takes anti-lawyer movies to a new level by literally demonizing the profession. A young lawyer joins a Memphis firm where the people are friendly the money is fantastic and no one ever leaves alive. When mitch discovers the truth about the firm he begins a desperate race against time to survive. Two carefree pals (Ralph Macchio and Mitchell Whitfield) traveling through Alabama are mistakenly arrested, and charged with murder. Fortunately, one of them has a cousin who's a lawyer - Vincent Gambini (Joe Pesci, Lethal Weapon 3, Home Alone), a former auto mechanic from Brooklyn who just passed his bar exam after his sixth try. Vinny's never been in court - or in Alabama - and when he arrives with his leather-clad girlfriend (Marisa Tomei in her Oscar® winning Supporting Actress performance), to try his first case, it's a real shock - for him and the Deep South!
Presumed Innocent (1990) High Crimes (2002) A Time to Kill (1996)
Harrison Ford Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd Sandra Bullock, Samuel Jackson. Matthew McConaughey, Kevin Spacey
Rich with ambiguity, this smooth adaptation of Scott Turow's bestselling mystery novel stars Harrison Ford as Rusty Sabich, the prosecuting attorney assigned to a case involving the murder of a beautiful, seductive lawyer (Greta Scacchi) with whom he'd been having a secret affair. After the investigation gets off to a slow start, damning evidence points to Rusty as the prime suspect. His career is destroyed when his superior and secondary suspect Raymond Horgan (Brian Dennehy) sets him up for the fall. Bonnie Bedelia plays Rusty's wife Barbara, who is not above suspicion herself. While Ford's performance rides a fine line between presumed innocence and possible guilt, director Alan J. Pakula (All the President's Men) maintains a consistent tone of uncertainty that keeps the viewer guessing. A welcomed reunion of Kiss the Girls costars Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman makes High Crimes a worthwhile thriller with vivid, likable characters. Efficiently directed by Carl Franklin, this military mystery doesn't have the unpredictable edginess of Franklin's Devil in a Blue Dress, but its twisting plot is sure to hold anyone's attention. Judd plays a successful, happily married lawyer whose husband (Jim Caviezel) is accused of killing innocent citizens during his military service in El Salvador some 13 years earlier. A cover-up implicates a powerful Brigadier General (Bruce Davison), but when Judd hires a maverick attorney (Freeman), Judd is caught in a potentially lethal trap of threats and deception. Attentive viewers will stay ahead of the action, and alleged villains are posed as obvious decoys. Still, Judd and Freeman have an appealing rapport (shared with Amanda Peet, playing Judd's vivacious sister), and Freeman's character flaws add worldly spice to yet another rich performance. You wouldn't know it by watching the Batman movies they collaborated on, but this smart adaptation of John Grisham's novel proves that director Joel Schumacher and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman have some talent when the right project comes along. Schumacher had previously directed Grisham's The Client, and brought equal craft and intelligence to this story about a young Southern attorney (Matthew McConaughey, in his breakthrough role) who defends a black father (Samuel L. Jackson) after he kills two men who raped his young daughter. Sandra Bullock plays the passionate law student who serves as McConaughey's legal aide and voice of conscience in the racially charged drama. Added to the star power of the lead roles is a fine supporting cast, including Kevin Spacey, Ashley Judd, and Oliver Platt.
The Accused (1988) Legally Blonde 2 (2003) The Chamber (1996)
Jodie Foster, Kelly McGillis Reese Witherspoon Gene Hackman, Chris O’Donnell
Jodie Foster won her first Oscar for her role in this drama, based on an actual incident. She plays a girl out for a night of fun at a poolroom. Before she knows what's happening, the men she's been flirting with have pinned her down for a gang rape. The story centers on the efforts of a district attorney (Kelly McGillis) to press her case, in spite of a wall of silence by the participants--and then to take the unusual step of going after the witnesses as accomplices. Foster is outstanding as a tough, blue-collar woman who persists in what seems like an unwinnable case, despite the prospect of character assassination for standing up for herself. When Elle (Witherspoon) discovers that her lovable chihuahua Bruiser's mom is locked in a cruel animal testing facility, she heads to D.C. to fight for animal rights, give Washington a makeover and prove once and for all that America really is the land of the free... and the home of the blonde! A top cast consisting of veteran aces Gene Hackman and Faye Dunaway can't rescue this way-too-long, dreadfully earnest version of John Grisham's equally gimpy novel. There are several problems in this story of an intertwined Southern family who must disentangle themselves from the past and the dark shadow of a 1967 bombing. That terrorist attack led to the deaths of two Jewish children and was pinned on the black-sheep patriarch of the family, a racist, card-carrying Klansman named Sam Cayhall (Hackman), who is now serving time on death row for the hate crime. Years later, the savior grandson cometh. Young-buck lawyer Adam Hall--played with righteous determination and limited range by Chris O'Donnell--pulls out all the stops to save his client from the Mississippi gas chamber. As is usual in Grisham country, the poor lawyer becomes embroiled in a plan more diabolical, corrupt, and layered than he could guess and the truth spirals out of control, endangering lives, and opening old wounds.
A Civil Action (1999) Class Action (1991) The Client (1994)
John Travolta Gene Hackman Tommy Lee Jones, Susan Sarandon
Jan Schlichtmann is a cynical, high-priced personal injury attorney who only takes big-money cases he can safely settle out of court. Though his latest case at first appears straightforward, Schlichtmann soon becomes entangled in an epic legal battle ... one where he's willing to put his career, reputation, and all that he owns on the line for the rights of his clients! Also featuring Robert Duvall, William H. Macy, and John Lithgow -- this gripping, widely acclaimed hit delivers edge-of-your-seat entertainment! In this high-concept legal thriller, directed by Michael Apted, Gene Hackman plays a flamboyant lawyer who specializes in civil-liberties and consumer-advocacy cases, and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio plays his daughter, an ambitious associate in a slick corporate-law firm. The script-by Carolyn Shelby, Christopher Ames, and Samantha Shad-contrives to pit the father and the daughter against each other in a negligence suit against an auto manufacturer. Sparks, both personal and professional, are meant to fly, but the Hollywood engineers who designed this piece of product have cut a few too many corners: the thriller plotting is predictable, the family drama is broad and sentimental, and the connections between them are facile. Yet Hackman and Mastrantonio somehow manage to impart lifelike rhythms to their scenes together: their skill keeps this rickety contraption from stalling completely. Settle in. Take a deep breath. Hold tight. The best screen version yet of a novel by John Grisham (The Firm, The Pelican Brief) delivers all-out, moment-by-moment suspense! Headliners Susan Sarandon and Tommy Lee Jones join newcomer Brad Renfro in The Client, a whirlwind thriller that "starts like a house afire and keeps on blazing" (Chicago Tribune). Renfro plays Mark Sway, an 11-year-old torn between what he knows and what he can never tell. A hitman will snuff him in half a heartbeat if Mark reveals what he learned about a Mob murder. An ambitious federal prosecutor (Jones) will keep the pressure on until Mark tells all. Suddenly, Mark isn't a boy playing air guitar anymore. He's a pawn in a deadly game. And his only ally is a courageous but unseasoned attorney (Sarandon) who risks her career for him...but never imagines she'll also risk her life.
Criminal Intent (2005) Intolerable Cruelty (2003) Double Jeopardy (1999)
Sebastian Spencer Catherine Zeta-Jones, George Clooney Ashley Judd, Tommy Lee Jones
Devon Major thought that his share of difficulties were over. Having gone through a difficult divorce with his wife he was now on the way to rebuilding his life when tragedy strikes leaving him in a fight for his freedom and his innocence. Devons' beautiful ex-wife is found viciously murdered, and all evidence points to Devon. In desperation Devon turns to Susan Grace the lawyer who represented his ex-wife during their divorce. Although initially reluctant and unconvinced of Devon's innocence Susan finds herself agreeing to take on the case and finds that the path to justice can often lead to betrayal, deception and murder. A sleek George Clooney and a seductive Catherine Zeta-Jones square off magnificently in the divorce comedy Intolerable Cruelty. The plot is simple: Lawyer supreme Miles Massey (Clooney, Out of Sight, Ocean's Eleven) skillfully outmaneuvers gold-digger Marylin Rexroth (Zeta-Jones, Chicago, Traffic) when she divorces her wealthy husband--and she sets out to get revenge. But this movie comes from the creative minds of the Coen Brothers (Fargo, Raising Arizona, O Brother Where Art Thou?), and so Intolerable Cruelty includes a Scottish wedding chapel in Vegas, an asthmatic hit man, fluffy-dog-stroking European nobility, and a legendarily unbreakable pre-nuptial agreement. Still, it's pretty restrained for the Coens; smooth and consistent, it never stumbles as disappointingly as their movies can, but also never quite hits the operatic pitch of their best work. It's still damn funny, though, with top-notch performances from the leads as well as Geoffrey Rush, Cedric the Entertainer, and Billy Bob Thornton. Young Libby Parsons (Ashley Judd) is happy as a clam, and why not? She's got a loving, successful husband (Bruce Greenwood), an adorable son, and an island home to die for. One morning, after a romantic sailing expedition with her husband, Libby finds herself covered in blood. Her husband's missing, the boat resembles a murder scene, and there's a knife on the deck. One might stop right there and call for help; Libby, however, takes matters--or, more specifically, the knife--into her own hands, and the moment she does, there's the Coast Guard. Faster than you can say frame-up, Libby's been charged with murder and jailed, with her young son stripped from her custody. It's all cut-and-dried, except for one thing: Libby's husband isn't dead, and she's about to track him down. And thanks to the Fifth Amendment's double jeopardy rule, she can't be charged twice for his murder.
Erin Brockovich (2000) A Few Good Men (1992) JFK (1991)
Julia Roberts Jack Nicholson, Demi Moore, Tom Cruise Kevin Costner
A real woman. A real story. A real triumph. Julia Roberts stars as Erin Brockovich, a feisty young mother who fought for justice any way she knew how. Desperate for a job to support herself and her three children, she convinces attorney Ed Masry (Albert Finney) to hire her, and promptly stumbles upon a monumental law case against a giant corporation. Now, Erin's determined to take on this powerful adversary even though no law firm has dared to do it before. And while Ed doesn't want anything to do with the case, Erin won't take "no" for an answer. So the two begin an incredible and sometimes hilarious fight that will bring a small town to its feet and a huge company to its knees. A U.S. soldier is dead, and military lawyers Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee and Lieutenant Commander JoAnne Galloway want to know who killed him. "You want the truth?" snaps Colonel Jessup (Jack Nicholson). "You can't handle the truth!" Astonishingly, Jack Nicholson's legendary performance as a military tough guy in A Few Good Men really amounts to a glorified cameo: he's only in a few scenes. But they're killer scenes, and the film has much more to offer. Tom Cruise (Kaffee) shines as a lazy lawyer who rises to the occasion, and Demi Moore (Galloway) gives a command performance. Kevin Bacon, Kiefer Sutherland, J.T. Walsh, and Cuba Gooding Jr. (of Jerry Maguire fame) round out the superb cast. Director Rob Reiner poses important questions about the rights of the powerful and the responsibilities of those just following orders in this classic courtroom drama. Oliver Stone's movie means to demonstrate that the assassination of John F. Kennedy was not the act of a disturbed Marxist loner named Lee Harvey Oswald but the result of a vast, complex right-wing conspiracy. The screenplay, by Stone and Zachary Sklar, packs an extraordinary amount of assassination lore into three hours and eight minutes; it also includes a ton of speculative material about governmental misconduct and quite a few invented characters. The movie is a thick gumbo of truths, half-truths, unverifiable hypotheses, and pure rant, and Stone ladles it out indiscriminately. In essence, the conspiracy theory argued here amounts to a series of inferential leaps proceeding from a speculation (that J.F.K. was killed because he wanted to pull out of Vietnam and end the Cold War). It's all bombast and misdirection, like a courtroom summation by a lawyer who knows that he can't win on the evidence. Stone comes on like a fearless radical, but his attitude toward the audience is firmly in the Hollywood tradition: he tries to bypass the intellect and go straight for the gut.
Runaway Jury Liar Liar The Pelican Brief
John Cusack, Gene Hackman Jim Carrey Denzel Washington, Julia Roberts
In this high-concept legal thriller, directed by Michael Apted, Gene Hackman plays a flamboyant lawyer who specializes in civil-liberties and consumer-advocacy cases, and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio plays his daughter, an ambitious associate in a slick corporate-law firm. The script-by Carolyn Shelby, Christopher Ames, and Samantha Shad-contrives to pit the father and the daughter against each other in a negligence suit against an auto manufacturer. Sparks, both personal and professional, are meant to fly, but the Hollywood engineers who designed this piece of product have cut a few too many corners: the thriller plotting is predictable, the family drama is broad and sentimental, and the connections between them are facile. Yet Hackman and Mastrantonio somehow manage to impart lifelike rhythms to their scenes together: their skill keeps this rickety contraption from stalling completely. Jim Carrey is back in top form after his disastrous outing in The Cable Guy. As a lawyer who becomes physically unable to tell a lie for 24 hours after his son makes a magical birthday wish, Carrey learns a few brutal truths about the real meaning of life. There is very little plot, but Carrey's rubbery contortions and slapstick trickery provide just enough humor to keep you interested in this breezy bit of escapism. Not aided in this film by pets or animation, Carrey manages to do amazing and unique things with very simple props. He is also more in control of his acting than before. He is still over the top, but remains believable in some of the lower-energy scenes. An added plus is that the comedy is not as coarse as we've come to expect from him.
Another John Grisham legal thriller comes to the screen, pairing Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts in a film directed by Alan J. Pakula, who is known for dark-hued suspense pictures such as Klute, The Parallax View, All the President's Men, and Presumed Innocent. The Pelican Brief isn't up to the level of those films, but it is a perfectly entertaining movie about a law student (Roberts) whose life is endangered when she discovers evidence of a conspiracy behind the killings of two Supreme Court justices. She enlists the help of an investigative reporter (Washington) and the two become fugitives. The charisma and chemistry of the leads goes a long way toward compensating for the story's shortcomings, as does a truly impressive supporting cast that includes Sam Shepard, John Heard, James B. Sikking, Tony Goldwyn, Stanley Tucci, Hume Cronyn, John Lithgow, William Atherton, and Robert Culp.
I am Sam (2002) Philadelphia (1993) Dead Man Walking (1996)
Sean Penn, Michele Pfeiffer Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington Susan Sarandon, Sean Penn
I Am Sam makes you laugh, cry, and recoil all at the same time. Perhaps no other film of recent memory has epitomized the shameless sentimentality of Hollywood as succinctly as director and screenwriter Jessie Nelson's story of a mentally challenged man fighting to retain custody of his 7-year-old daughter. Sam (Sean Penn), who has the mental age of 7, wipes down tables at a Los Angeles Starbucks and takes good care of his daughter Lucy, who was left with him shortly after birth by a homeless woman. Sam has gotten by just fine with a little help from his friends, including his eccentric neighbor (Diane Wiest) and a lovable group of similarly challenged friends, but a series of misunderstandings leaves Sam fighting to get Lucy back from the state. Sam's lawyer, Rita Harrison (Michelle Pfeiffer), is an overly ambitious woman whose life is soon transformed by proximity to Sam's brimming humanity. Sean Penn is, as usual, wholeheartedly committed to his role and turns in an admirable, if overtly affected performance. However, I Am Sam, with all its earnest charm, reaches an emblematic low when Sam, a character apparently devoid of any authentic sentiment, delivers a courtroom speech memorized from Kramer vs. Kramer as the film's finale. Philadelphia wasn't the first movie about AIDS (it followed such worthy independent films as Parting Glances and Longtime Companion), but it was the first Hollywood studio picture to take AIDS as its primary subject. In that sense, Philadelphia is a historically important film. As such, it's worth remembering that director Jonathan Demme (Melvin and Howard, Something Wild, The Silence of the Lambs) wasn't interested in preaching to the converted; he set out to make a film that would connect with a mainstream audience. And he succeeded. Philadelphia was not only a hit, it also won Oscars for Bruce Springsteen's haunting "The Streets of Philadelphia," and for Tom Hanks as the gay lawyer Andrew Beckett who is unjustly fired by his firm because he has AIDS. Denzel Washington is another lawyer (functioning as the mainstream-audience surrogate) who reluctantly takes Beckett's case and learns to overcome his misconceptions about the disease, about those who contract it, and about gay people in general. The combined warmth and humanism of Hanks and Demme were absolutely essential to making this picture a success. The cast also features Jason Robards, Antonio Banderas (as Beckett's lover), Joanne Woodward, and Robert Ridgely, and, of course, those Demme regulars Charles Napier, Tracey Walter, and Roger Corman. Superbly adapted and directed by Tim Robbins from the nonfiction book of the same name by Sister Helen Prejean, this spiritually enlightened drama is too intelligent to traffic in polemics or self-righteous pontifications against the death penalty. But in examining the issue of capital punishment from a humanitarian perspective, the film urges thoughtful reflection on the justifications for legally ending a human life. Although it features a fine supporting cast, the film maintains its sharp focus through flawless lead performances by Oscar-winner Susan Sarandon as the Catholic nun Prejean, and Sean Penn as the death-row killer she struggles to save. Robbins avoids a biased message, letting the movie examine both sides of the issue instead (R. Lee Ermey gives a fine performance as the grief-stricken father of one of Penn's victims). As the drama unfolds and Penn's execution deadline grows near, Dead Man Walking is graced by compelling depths of theme and character, achieving an emotional impact that demands further reflection and removes the stigma of piousness from socially conscious filmmaking.
And Justice for All (1979) The Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) License to Kill (1984)
Al Pacino Dustin Hoffman Denzel Washington
Al Pacino plays a Maryland lawyer who takes on a judicial system rife with dealmaking in this awkward blend of satire and sentimentality. Topical director Norman Jewison can't seem to help Pacino get comfortable with the mismatched material, which pushes the film into outrageousness at some turns and mawkishness at others. The script by Barry Levinson and Valerie Curtin is more an accumulation of random ideas and moments than a congruent story. However, it's interesting to see the large cast of good actors, most of whom hadn't become well known yet. (Christine Lahti made her film debut here.) Pacino gets to work for a second time (following The Godfather II) with acting mentor Lee Strasberg. Adapted by director Robert Benton from the novel by Avery Corman, this is perhaps the finest, most evenly balanced film ever made about the failure of marriage and the tumultuous shift of parental roles. It begins when Joanna Kramer (Meryl Streep) bluntly informs her husband Ted (Dustin Hoffman) that she's leaving him, just as his advertising career is advancing and demanding most of his waking hours. Self-involvement is just one of the film's underlying themes, along with the search for identity that prompts Joanna to leave Ted with their first-grade son (Justin Henry), who now finds himself living with a workaholic parent he barely knows. Juggling his domestic challenge with professional deadlines, Ted is further pressured when his wife files for custody of their son. This legal battle forms the dramatic spine of the film, but its power is derived from Benton's flawlessly observant script and the superlative performances of his entire cast. Because Benton refuses to assign blame and deals fairly with both sides of a devastating dilemma, the film arrives at equal levels of pain, growth, and integrity under emotionally stressful circumstances. That gives virtually every scene the unmistakable ring of truth--a quality of dramatic honestly that makes Kramer vs. Kramer not merely a classic tearjerker, but one of the finest American dramas of its decade. A grieving family, whose teenage daughter was killed in a car accident by a drunk driver, struggles to find justice as they encounter bureaucratic delays in bringing the case to trial. Their only hope is young, District Attorney Martin Sawyer (Denzel Washington, The Great Debaters, American Gangster), who, ruling after ruling, is hard-pressed to overcome the shameless tactics the defense lawyer uses to keep his wealthy client out of jail. As the family's frustration and outrage builds, Sawyer must deliver the performance of his life if he hopes to outwit the opposing counsel and bring justice to an innocent girl who didn't deserve to die.
Primal Fear (1996) Fracture (2007) The Hurricane (2000)
Richard Gere Anthony Hopkins Denzel Washington
Clever twists and a bona fide surprise ending make this an above-average courtroom thriller, tapping into the post-O.J. scrutiny of our legal system in the case of a hotshot Chicago defense attorney (Richard Gere) whose latest client is an altar boy (Edward Norton) accused of murdering a Catholic archbishop. The film uses its own manipulation to tell a story about manipulation, and when we finally discover who's been pulling the strings, the payoff is both convincing and pertinent to the ongoing debate over what constitutes truth in the American system of justice. Making an impressive screen debut that has since led to a stellar career, Norton gives a performance that rides on a razor's edge of schizophrenic pathology--his role is an actor's showcase, and without crossing over the line of credibility, Norton milks it for all it's worth. Gere is equally effective in a role that capitalizes on his shifty screen persona, and Laura Linney and Frances McDormand give memorable performances in their intelligently written supporting roles. Anthony Hopkins plays a brilliant, pathologically serene killer outwitting the good guys at every turn and taking a shine to a twenty-something law enforcer who can’t conceal a rural accent and rugged origins. The film tells us from the get-go that Hopkins’ character, a wealthy engineer, shoots his philandering wife (Embeth Davidtz) and leaves her in a vegetative state. From there, it should be a simple matter for young, assistant District Attorney Willy Beachum (Ryan Gosling) to nail Crawford, who provides a full confession and even eschews counsel. That’s good for Beachum, a slick winner with a vague background of deprivation, rapidly on his way out of public service after attracting the attention of a deep-pocket, private firm. What he doesn’t know, however, is that Crawford has masterminded more than vengeance against his wife, and that the state’s case against him is full of pre-arranged holes and a huge time-bomb that will send Beachum scrambling to keep the pieces together.
Rubin hurricane carter is cut down in the prime of his boxing career and convicted of three murders he did not commit. Sentenced to life in prison carter writes a best-selling autobiography called the sixteenth round which inspires a young man to enlist the help of activists to make carter a free man.
 
Chicago (2000) Just Cause (1995)  
Richard Gere, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Rene Zellweger Laurence Fishburne, Sean Connolly  
Bob Fosse's sexy cynicism still shines in Chicago, a faithful movie adaptation of the choreographer-director's 1975 Broadway musical. Of course the story, all about merry murderesses and tabloid fame, is set in the Roaring '20s, but Chicago reeks of '70s disenchantment--this isn't just Fosse's material, it's his attitude, too. That's probably why the movie's breathless observations on fleeting fame and fickle public taste already seem dated. However, Renée Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones are beautifully matched as Jazz Age vixens, and Richard Gere gleefully sheds his customary cool to belt out a showstopper. (Yes, they all do their own singing and dancing.) Whatever qualms musical purists may have about director Rob Marshall's cut-cut-cut style, the film's sheer exuberance is intoxicating. Given the scarcity of big-screen musicals in the last 25 years, that's a cause for singing, dancing, cheering. And all that jazz. Just Cause is a film that relies on phony plot twists and steals openly from any other thriller that it can remember. If there was a drinking game requiring players to drink during every cinematic "homage," you'd be tanked after Just Cause's first 45 minutes. Take one case of racial injustice, place it in an exotic, exquisitely photographed location (the Florida Everglades), and bring in an outsider, played by a bankable star, to save the day. Make sure nothing appears as it seems. Add a couple of plot twists, some over-the-top character actors (Ed Harris, shamelessly riffing on Hannibal Lecter), stir, and serve. The big name in this case is Sean Connery, who plays a Harvard law professor summoned to the swamps by an apparently innocent death row inmate (Blair Underwood), who swears he didn't rape and kill that 11-year-old girl. He says he confessed because maverick psycho-cop Tanny Brown (Laurence Fishburne) made him play a solo game of Russian roulette. He says his Serial-killer neighbor on death row (Harris) committed the crime. Connery buys it, the audience buys it, and how could they not? Director Arne Glimcher (who made the lackluster Mambo Kings) coerces everyone with simplistic plot manipulations. Characters are given no depth, and the actors are pawns moved about like pieces on a Clue gameboard.