A Time to Kill, written by Akiva Goldsman, based on the novel by John Grisham
What firepower is engaged in this feature, with a terrifying – if at times somewhat exaggerated? – story:
Samuel L. Jackson as Carl Lee Hailey, Sandra Bullock as Ellen Roark, Matthew McConaughey (not a favorite here) as Jake Tyler Brigance, Kevin Spacey before the MeToo and Time’s Up movements in the role of D.A. Rufus Buckley, Donald and Kiefer Sutherland, Oliver Platt, Ashley Judd, Chris Cooper and others.
Early on, Tonya Hailey, the ten-year-old African American daughter of Carl Lee Hailey is abducted and raped by James Willard and Billy Cobb, two white monsters who brag about their hideous crime in a bar and are arrested.
Knowing that some others in the position of the criminals have escaped justice, the enraged father takes an assault rifle and seeks ultimate justice, killing the two villains and injuring seriously the deputy sheriff – Dwayne Powell Looney aka Chris Cooper, who would later testify that Carl Lee should be freed, since he is a hero…
The deputy sheriff himself, despite the ordeal of having lost a leg, because of the ricochet that hit him, would express the firm conviction that he would have done the same, in a similar situation; he would have killed those who abused and raped his daughter.
In that, the plot of the motion picture is intriguing, interesting and challenging, although it seems to the under signed that there is exaggeration in statements – lines perhaps written for a more dramatic script- and often in acting that feels artificial, melodramatic, for the audience to hear and admire, in the case of McConaughey and some others.
Carl Lee Hailey is arrested, the film becomes a court drama with plenty of events taking place outside, the Ku Klux Klan gets involved, attacking the families of those involved, the defense attorney, Jake Tyler Brigance, his assistant Ethel Twitty, and finally Ellen Roark, who is helping the same defense team.
Donald Sutherland aka Lucien Wilbanks has two lines that could constitute the very essence of the film:
If you win, justice will be done.
Also, if you lose, justice will be done.
Which underlines one of the main merits of this drama, which is that the situation is very complex, any outcome will have a worthy side to it, while at the same time, we could argue that no matter what happens, justice would have lost.
Yes, a parent is aggravated, enraged – especially in a region with a strong racist streak, as we learn Canton, Mississippi is at the time the action takes place – and wants payback, to revenge the awful, abhorrent, heartbreaking, inhumane abuse suffered by his young child.
On the other hand, the theme of the accusation is that nobody can take the law into his own hands, for the result would be not only chaos, but a lawless country where people shoot each other without punishment ultimately, unless it comes in the form of yet more killing, done in the name of the murdering that had already taken place.
Indeed, in spite of the emotions, the feeling, sympathy, compassion and projection in the similar circumstances that all audiences would resort to – and the filmmakers have surely intended to happen – the pint of the accusation is the one that would stand up as fair and just.
Nevertheless, the system is rigged, the circumstances are not the ones that would allow for a fair trial, Judge Omar Noose is more than biased, he is outspoken in his stand when he explains to the defense attorney that he is right in saying that his client would not have an impartial jury in Canton.
The lawyer is astonished and so are we, in the public, to hear this obviously malicious man admit to that, only to continue with:
However, your client would not have a fair-minded jury anywhere else in the state and therefore I reject your request to move the trial…
When hearings, questioning, cross examination begin, the same judge is favoring the obnoxious DA Rufus Buckley – in light of recent revelations, perhaps we can better understand the workings of the performances of Kevin Spacey, who seemed to relish so much the roles of evil characters – and rejecting almost any request from the defense…up to a point, where he seems to have a change of heart.
The main point seems to be the state of mind of the accused when he killed the rapists, whether he has suffered from temporary insanity – which would render him legally unaccountable – or he has acted in cold blood, committing premeditated double murder, which would make the death penalty seem justifiable.
The witness for the prosecution is an arrogant doctor who claims that the defendant acted with full awareness, premeditated and should face the consequences, only with the help of Ellen Roark his testimony is refuted, because the man turns out to have some serious blunders, mistakes and false statements in his past.
Alas, it is the same situation for the expert brought in by the opposite side, who is discovered to have been arrested and charged with statutory rape, the photos with him in a hotel room have been acquired by the prosecutor’s office and the drama continues.
This is a somewhat satisfying film, although not overwhelming.