“I’m the judge and the jury pal, and the verdict is GUILTY!” One of my favorite lines from the TV show Seinfeld. This post is inspired by my recent service as a jury member this past week (my only excuse for being a lazy blogger ;-)). I couldn’t help but think about the differences between the way court drama unfolds in reality vs. on the silver screen, and I began pondering my favorite “courtroom” films (in no particular order).
1. My Cousin Vinny
Marisa Tomei’s court appearance is reason enough to see this movie. Acting as an “expert” witness for the defense, Tomei rattles off the correct ignition timing on a 1955 Bel Air Chevrolet with a 327 cubic-inch engine and a four barrel carburetor, and consequently wins the case for the defense as Joe Pesci’s character watches with sly satisfaction. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend you do if you are in the mood for a chuckle. The chemistry of Pesci and Tomei, coupled with a plot that is riddled with legal and regional spoof, is a definite treat.
2. Inherit the Wind
I believe I was forced to watch Inherit the Wind in school, but I remember liking it enough to include it in this list. The case depicted in the film is now legendary-the ultimate showdown of Evolution vs. Creationism…a real battle fought in the courtroom back in 1925…and one that still thrives to this day. Perhaps its relevance is what inspires this film’s inclusion on the list of classics. All I can say is, thank god for air conditioning.
3. To Kill A Mocking Bird
This is a film I definitely saw in school, as the novel by Harper Lee was mandatory reading. Again, this is another book (and film) I really enjoyed despite my grade depending on it. The film and novel depicts lawyer Atticus Finch defending a black man in the Depression-era South against a bogus rape charge. It’s a fantastic look into the history of race in the courtroom, and how quickly reasonable people can be blinded by their own prejudices. It also takes a look into how “bystanders” are made to feel corrupted by the legal system, their innocence taken away when they realize justice isn’t always clearly served.
4. A Few Good Men
“You can’t handle the truth!” I’ve seen this movie in pieces several times over the years, and always it comes down to that one line uttered by an enraged Jack Nicholson. And despite its being parodied, it’s such a great line because it has so many layers not only in the context of the movie but in reality as well. Is justice always served when the “bad guys” go to jail? Or are there instances when difficult (albeit illegal?) decisions are made to avoid a greater evil? Maybe ignorance to the truth is sometimes bliss?
5. 12 Angry Men
I love this movie because unlike any other movie I’ve seen involving court dramas, the audience gets to see the inner workings of a jury. It’s not easy getting 12 people to agree on what they heard, saw, felt, etc, in the courtroom. It’s even harder to overcome the innate prejudices we carry with us in order to render a fair verdict.
6. Kramer vs. Kramer
The court scene in this film is limited to the last 20 or so minutes in the film, yet I put it on the list because of when it was made and what it addresses. I only watched this film for the first time a couple days ago. It came out in 1979 and went on to sweep to Oscars that year in all major categories. The film depicts a family torn apart by divorce and the struggle that ensues when both parents want full custody of their child. At a time when mothers still have the upper hand in raising their children, this film puts up a great fight for the dads out there, and asks some important questions about why a mother is a better parent for a child even after she has abandoned him. The film doesn’t have a typical Hollywood happy ending, and justice is served outside the court system amongst the people themselves.