A Time to Kill Reviews
A Time To Kill is a compelling, well told, superbly acted film that not only is well worth a look, but also bears repeat viewing. I'd even go so far as to say that, despite its flaws, I love this movie a little bit.
'A Time to Kill' is in need of significant fine tuning but the racially motivated crime narrative on offer is very strong. Samuel L.Jackson hires the services of Matthew McConaughy's lawyer after he goes on trial for killing his daughter's white rapists. The discussions of vigilante justice, though not in-depth, are thought-provoking and the events depicting the wider public aftermath ignited by the litigation do well to shock viewers. Despite appearing to have all the necessary elements for a racial discrimination in Southern America premise, they should have dedicated more time on making these elements better. The Klu Klux Klan are too often treated as pantomime villains, meaning its hard to take them seriously even though we really should given their actions. Kevin Spacey slightly overcooks it when playing the prosecuting lawyer, trying too hard to come across as a dickhead. Furthermore, vocabulary is kept rather simple, meaning we never explore below the surface of most characters. It is only at the end where, in typical Samuel L.Jackson fashion, we get an enlightening speech which highlights an insightful observation of the racism issue. As a result, this story echoing 'To Kill a Mockingbird' is not told in the most poetic manner but manages to hold onto enough of the emotional power inherent to its factual setting.
There were a series of overwhelmingly powerful scenes and monologues, and the story as a whole was engaging - as most any dramatic courtroom saga is - but I felt dissatisfied in the end. While I recognize Grisham is the author and there was a need to stick to the original novel, I felt that a more powerful ending would've been for the final verdict to more accurately reflect our country's current state of race relations.
And, you know, for the case to have been closed as soon as the murderer admitted to what he was on trial for.
A nitpicking statement that is, but "A Time to Kill" is provocative enough to call for discussion and critique. Its premise is horrific. It concerns the brutal rape of ten-year-old Tonya Hailey (Rae'ven Larrymore Kelly), a black girl who falls predator to a couple of disgusting white supremacists while walking home from the grocery store in the backwoods. Tonya's Southern town is understandably shook up, vying for a lock-up of the evil men who robbed the girl of her childhood.
But an expected incarceration is complicated when Tonya's father, Carl (Samuel L. Jackson), takes the law into his own hands and guns down the men in the very same courtroom they're about to be tried. An officer of the law (Chris Cooper) loses his leg in the scuffle. From there, things quickly go awry - the town's bigots get so passionate that the Ku Klux Klan rises from the ashes, and the region becomes a breeding ground of reinstated prejudice.
Putting his life on the line in his thirst for justice, young attorney Jake Brigance (Matthew McConaughey) takes Carl's case, a brave thing to do considering the murderous nature of the town's increasingly overt racists. His wife (Ashley Judd) is concerned, the safety of their family in jeopardy, and his secretary (Brenda Fricker) would rather he just move onto another case. But, knowing full well that few in town would be willing to undertake Carl's case, Brigance throws caution to the wind in an attempt to make right.
On his side is Ellen Roark (Sandra Bullock), an enthusiastic lawyer fresh out of law school, his close friend Harry Rex Vonner (Oliver Platt), and his mentor (Donald Sutherland). His team is well-adapted to the situation, but the prosecuting attorney (Kevin Spacey) is determined, and very much able, to gain the upper hand, caring less about morality and more about winning. In a race against time, Brigance must do the impossible and persuade a courtroom of several white supremacists of Carl's justification by claiming insanity.
"A Time to Kill," of course, is the kind of movie that would never dream of letting the KKK win - what film would allow for such an ending, especially one that plays for a drawn out two-and-a-half hours? The film itself is an adaptation of John Grisham's first (and best-selling) novel, and it is a plausible morality tale, many of its situations ringing true. It is successful at antagonizing us, and calls for us to question our own morals in the same way many of its own characters face.
But my faint praise is not well-matched in every area. A lot of my concern especially arrives at the end of the film, particularly the scene that depicts Brigance's closing remarks to the jury. In it, McConaughey delivers a moving but graphic speech that brutally walks the jury through the traumas Tonya went through, forcing them into the shoes of Carl in his state of vengeance. It's a rousing speech, well-delivered by McConaughey and certainly a blunt reminder that Tonya's rapists had what was coming to them. But the screenplay makes a tragic mistake in that in calls for Brigance to conclude his remarks with a head-shaker of a statement: "Now," he says through tears. "Imagine she's white."
Would the jury not have been disturbed by a terrifying recounting of what Tonya survived? Are we, as viewers, supposed to sit back, not care about the story, until Brigance asks us to ponder a different race? It's a petrifying misstep that causes us to question the superficiality of the film as a whole. If I were generous, I might assume that the film isn't trying to be artificial, rather remind us that, if Carl were an upper-class white man, such a court case would not be occurring at all. But "A Time to Kill," too sanctimonious to cause most viewers to draw upon subtleties, feels phony overall.
But it still contains a lot of good, and that's why I find it hard to completely write it off. McConaughey and Jackson give impassioned, sensitive performances, and Bullock and Spacey are feisty and compellingly ambitious. For most of its length, it is very absorbing. But it is a shallow examination of race relations, one that begins with a rapidly beating heart than grows steadily sluggish as it tries to further its many claims. A shame - we can only wonder how much better of a film it would be if it were more subtle, if it were less soapbox reliant and more impeccably intelligent.
Maybe others might like this, but this movie just wasn't for me.
A tad long, but well worth every moment bc of the powerful acting.
4 out of 5