(Air Date: Week Of 7/24/96)
On of the pleasures of watching "A Time To kill" is the fact that each and every role is so ideally cast, rather like the vintage days at Warner Brothers, when you could see Claude Rains, Gloria Dickson, Edward Norris, Otto Kruger, Allan Joslyn, Lana Turner and Elisha Cook all in the same movie. That would be the 1937 classic, "They Won't Forget", directed by Mervyn LeRoy, which explored the aftermath of murder in the deep South. John Grisham's "A Time To Kill", directed by Joel Schumacher , also shows the consequences of murder in the South.
The opening sequences are sketchy, but the blanks are filled in by movie's end. A little girl is on her way home from the grocery when she's ambushed by two bullies in a truck who rape her, try to string her up and finally throw her off a bridge and leave her to die. Miraculously, the child survives, her assailants are identified and sent to jail. While they are enroute to trial, her grief-stricken father blows them away, severely injuring the childhood friend who is escorting them to court. He hires young and inexperienced lawyer Jake Brigance (with one "G") to defend him. Brigance is played by Matthew McConnaughey, best known for small roles in "Dazed And Confused" and "Lone Star" and for being this month's pin-up on the cover of Vanity Fair.
McConnaughey is attractive and charming, if not yet the new Paul Newman everyone wants him to be. It helps that he's surrounded by such a powerhouse cast, who make him look even better. Prosecuting attorney Rufus Buckley, for example, is played by the great Kevin Spacey, who's perfected the uptight antagonist who mistakenly believes he's holding every ace in the deck. He's also a subtle master of every accent on the planet, as if he were born in Massachusetts or Mississippi, instead of New Jersey. Irish actress Brenda Fricker as Ethel Twitty might do well to absorb a few lessons from Spacey, since she lacks the accent, mannerisms, phrasings and speech patterns of the Southern lady her dialogue proclaims her to be. Much better is the wonderful Oliver Platt, so good in last year's underrated "Funny Bones", as Harry Rex Vonner, McConnaughey's morally challenged sidekick. Also good in small but key roles are Charles S. Dutton as Sherrif Ozzy Walls, Ashley Judd as Carla Brigance (with one "G") and that conscienceless scene stealer Patrick McGoohan as Judge Omar Noose. (Where does Grisham come up with all these names?) Both Donald and Keifer Sutherland appear, although not together, Donald as disbarred lawyer Lucien Wilbanks and Keifer as buy-the book white supremacist Freddie Cobb.
As he did in last year's "Citizen X", Donald punches holes in every cliche in the script & makes everyone playing opposite him look and sound like a real genius. Someone, give this REAL acting genius an Oscar, please! The heart & soul of the film are supplied by the irresistible Sandra Bullock as ace legal aide Ellen Roark and Samuel L. Jackson as defendant Carl Lee Hailey. Like Sutherland, Jackson has always made his co-players seem much, much better than they are and he, too, is long overdue for an Oscar. McConnaughey has one sublime courtroom sequence where the best elements of radio drama supercede cinematic technical wizardry & if every plot strand is tied up with one ribbon too many, there's barely an instant when you can catch your breath in "A Time To Kill". And about how many summer movies without twisters or aliens can you say THAT?
Copyright 1996 Monica Sullivan
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