(out of 5)
One of the most overproduced John Grisham film adaptations is taken from his first book. It would be far too easy to point out the drawbacks of this dramatic debacle (overly long running time, deceptively simple political issues dressed up as complex themes), so we’ll concentrate on the positive: this was the film that introduced the world to the one and only Matthew McConaughey, and was the perfect vehicle for doing so. Coming off like an unbridled Paul Newman for the nineties, McConaughey commands the camera with a star quality not seen in a newcomer in decades. Sandra Bullock‘s top-billed name was used to draw audiences in, but once they got in their seats it was nothing but the film’s new star that they were thinking about (especially since Bullock’s part is little more than a supporting cameo). McConaughey plays a green lawyer who takes on the task of defending Samuel L. Jackson after he shoots the two men who raped and murdered his little girl. In court, McConaughey must contend with a hot-shot pro (Kevin Spacey) and the entire population of his Mississippi hometown, where southern race relations are a firebomb to the entire case and threaten to estrange the lawyer from his family (including Ashley Judd as his wife) and fledgling law practice (with Brenda Fricker as his secretary). Unfortunately, after all the starmaking power and hot-potato issues have been gone through, you’re still left with a bloated epic that never seems to feel like it has said anything important to any member of its audience.
Directed by Joel Schumacher
Cinematography by Peter Menzies Jr.
Music by Elliot Goldenthal
Production Design by Larry Fulton
Costume Design by Ingrid Ferrin
Film Editing by William Steinkamp