A Bad Idea Even If He's Innocent
I'm going to be giving spoilers here, largely, because I was able to piece together what was going to happen perhaps half an hour in. The performances are enough to make me give this a marginally positive review, but only marginally. The script isn't very good, and I think almost that the urban legend of the changed ending is based on the fact that it would have been a shock if we'd all be wrong about who the killer really was. I'm not sure Robert Loggia deserved an Oscar nomination; to be perfectly honest, I'm only vaguely aware of who Robert Loggia even is. There are three warring performances in this movie; if anyone should have gotten a nomination for Supporting Actor, it's Peter Coyote. However, I think he, too, has been let down by the script, and I think there could have been a much more powerful story had a few minor changes been made.
Page Forrester (Maria Mayenzet) has been raped and murdered in her beach house. Naturally, the first suspect is her husband, Jack (Jeff Bridges), a powerful businessman. This is in part because the first suspect is always the husband. It is also true that the Forresters have a tempestuous relationship, as is well known to most of the people around them. District Attorney Thomas Krasny (Coyote) seems assured of a quick and easy prosecution. For his defense attorney, Jack chooses Teddy Barnes (Glenn Close), though she has not tried a case in some years. This is in no small part because Teddy is a woman, and she knows that it's smart for a man accused of so horrific a crime against his wife to have a woman visibly on his side. Teddy believes he's innocent, too; she keeps getting anonymous messages which lead her to clues. And, because this is a thriller (and written by Joe Eszterhas, no less), Teddy finds herself falling for him.
The first problem I have is that she begins a relationship with him while he is still on trial. It strikes me as a bad choice ethically. It's not that a defense attorney is forbidden from having an emotional connection to the defendant; we see it all the time. Spouses, children, siblings--all nature of family members. However, I also think that's a bad idea. I think the smartest thing is to go into a trial, especially a murder trial, with a certain amount of objectivity. People are notorious for ignoring the obvious when it's regarding people with whom they have an emotional connection. It happens in matters great and small. Therefore, I think it's in the best interests of the client to have a dispassionate person as their attorney, someone who won't just ignore things.
And, of course, Teddy's ignoring quite a lot. Vexingly, much of what she's ignoring seems pretty obvious, though it's also true that some of it won't hold up in court. She's awfully trusting of those anonymous messages. While it's true that she's right to distrust the story after she's heard about the attack on Julie Jensen (Karen Austin of the first couple of seasons of [i]Night Court[/i]), and while it's true that the police were awfully dumb in how they handled that attack, especially if they believed Jack was the killer, shouldn't she be a little more interested in who told her about it? How many people knew about that particular case? How many of them thought it was in her best interests to pass that information on--but didn't have the wherewithal to do their own detective work? Too easy to blame it on the tennis pro; he's his own cliché in this kind of story. If it isn't the husband, it's the lover; fair enough. But other than being Page's lover, what evidence did anyone have against him?
I think we are supposed to cheer the ending, but it wouldn't be necessary if only Teddy had been less stupid. Maybe the reason Jack went out of his way to find her, despite the fact that there were doubtless [i]practicing[/i] high-powered female attorneys in San Francisco, even in 1985, is that he was looking for a woman who would nonetheless be innocent enough to fall for him. The fact that his routine in wooing her seems rehearsed may well be a failing of director Richard Marquand--he directed few enough movies, for all one of them was [i]Return of the Jedi[/i]--but whose ever fault it was, the fact remains that Teddy might have been hoped to notice how rehearsed it was herself. I mean, someone even mentioned it in her hearing, and she didn't get suspicious enough until she found that stupid typewriter; why wasn't he smart enough to get rid of it altogether?