This is a magnificent adaptation of a magnificent novel, and in general, this is one of the best ever.
Set in a small Alabama town during the 1930s, this is the story of a very honest, no-nonsense widower lawyer named Atticus Finch who, in addition to trying to raise his two children Jem and Jean Louise (better known as Scout), puts his career on the line when he makes the decision to defend a black day laborer named Tom Robinson who is accused of beating and raping a white woman.
This was some bold subject matter, and it is semi-autobiographical. The movie came out two years after the book, and the fact that Civil Rights was still going on is why this was all such a big deal. What really shows the gutsiness is how such a divisive issue is shown through the eyes of Scout, and not Atticus. It's a great idea, and really gives some thought provoking insight by framing such a big issue through the eyes of a young, precocious child. This also serves as a great way to educate children on the issue.
And while the trial is a major highlight, and the main emotional core of the film, a lot of it is built around what happens before and after the courtroom stuff, which is a lot of character development, life lessons, and a nice slice-of-life look at a town and its people during a particular moment in history.
The performances all around are brilliant. The kids are great and likeable (which is quite a rarity), Robert Duvall makes a stunning film debut, Brock Peters is agonizingly sympathetic and compelling as Robinson, and then we get the man who really shines above all: Gregory Peck. This was a much deserved Oscar winning and career defining performance for him, and it really is one of the greats. He's wonderful through the whole thing, and he comes off as the kind of dad a person would love to have as their own. What seals the deal though is his lengthy courtroom monologue. I get all kinds of shaken and emotionally stirred up every time I watch that scene. It's some of the most powerful, riveting, and memorable acting ever put on film.
This is a pretty faithful, though slightly trimmed adaptation, and besides the great way it handles issues and things and the acting, there's some very assured direction, great cinematography, and a really touching and haunting score. It pretty much goes without saying that this one is a must see, so do it.