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A Time To Kill

Starring Sandra Bullock, Samuel L. Jackson and Matthew McConaughey;
with Kevin Spacey, Charles S. Dutton and Patrick McGoohan.
Directed by Joel Schumacher

Cranky, as always, does not make comparisons to Source material, which in this case is one of the few novels by John Grisham that he didn't finish. Nor will he make comparisons to the earlier films of director Joel Schumacher, a creator so concerned with the look (and he delivers a good look indeed) that the logic and continuity of the story usually come up short.

Our story takes place in the present day Deep South, specifically Mississippi, in a small town so hot, humid and lacking in air conditioning that the less clothing you wear, the more you sweat. The only sure way to avoid sweating profusely is to wear a jacket and tightly knotted tie. Loosen the tie and you'll sweat. Count on it.

Samuel L. Jackson plays Carl Lee Hailey. A hard working black man whose daughter is attacked and nearly murdered by a pair of drunken white trash. Racism runs so deep and wide, even now, that Hailey knows that the punks could walk. So he grabs his handy automatic weapon and blows the one confessed rapist and his unrepentant buddy to bits before their arraignment inside the local courthouse. Before doing so he, being of sound mind, makes sure he's got a lawyer to defend him for the crime he is about to commit.

Logically, the lawyer Jake Brigance, offers a plead of not guilty by reason of insanity. As Jake, Matthew McConaughey is so good hearted that he works for almost literally nothing. That's a general practice. He's at least a month, if not two, behind in his bills. He's got clients whose checks bounce. He's got a secretary who sticks with him through thick and thin. He's got a wife and daughter who fly to the safety of her rich parents house when things get hairy. Which would be an attack by the KKK. Which conveniently leaves Jake open to a possible attraction to the lovely Sandra Bullock.

Bullock's character, Ellen Roark, is an almost-freshman at Ole Miss. Ro-Ark, as she is called by thickly accented Southerners who do not seem able to pronounce a combination of vowels, heads south from her hoi polloi Boston roots, seeking to volunteer for the case. Problem is she shows up in town before Carl Lee Hailey commits the murders -- she is seen arriving in her Porsche by Harry Rex Vonner (Oliver Platt), Jake's four times divorced legal pal, who points her out and remarks that he likes German cars. OK, so Roark is psychic. She also happens to be a competent legal researcher who aids Jake by contributing a set of legal precedents which force the racist judge (Patrick McGoohan) to do his job properly. Even so, Jake won't sign her on. Two, maybe three times this happens.

Roark keeps coming back, until she discover that her politics run 180 degrees in opposition to Jake's. Which leads to an argument over lunch. Which is as good reason as any to make the hire.
And, needing even more conflict than the legally enthralling question as to whether or not murder can be justified, the KKK shows up and threatens, kidnaps, firebombs and does all sorts of white trash KKK stuff. In return, Black protesters torch the Klan leader, get into riots, and cause the National Guard to be called in to keep peace during the trial.

It's all ridiculous nonsense. The stereotype actions and reactions on the part of all the supporting characters detract from the strong and valiant efforts made by the principal cast. To be fair, Schumacher has assembled an excellent cast. In addition to those previously mentioned, add Kevin Spacey, Charles S. Dutton, Ashley Judd, Kiefer Sutherland and his father Donald in supporting roles. But, had Schumacher exercised his prerogative as director and moved the setting 20 or so years in the past, the racist elements of the story would have been more believable. (Then again, what do I, a left of center Northerner, know of present day Southern racism?) Had he adjusted a line or two of script, I wouldn't have noticed that Sandra Bullock does not look like an eighteen year old college freshman. Had he not been so overly liberal with the use of makeup sweat, I probably wouldn't have noticed the bit about the neck ties.

But I did.

Blame could be dolloped on screenwriter Akiva Goldsman (who teamed with Schumacher on the commercially successful but otherwise abhorrent Batman Forever) for not knowing what to leave out when adapting the original novel. Ultimately it is the director's job to pay attention to things like detail. It wouldn't have taken much attention, either. To be fair, of all the people who I Crankified after the show, those that had read the novel first enjoyed it. They knew what was left out.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to A Time To Kill, he would have paid...


That's what it costs me to rent. That's what I recommend you do.

Click to buy films by Joel Schumacher
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