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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

All my aimless thoughts, ideas, and ramblings, all packed into one site!

Tag Archives: A Time to Kill

Amistad (1997)

Jack Sparrow definitely had something to do with this as well. I know it for a fact.

I think it’s safe to say that anybody who has ever took history in the 5th grade or below knows this story, but if not, here’s the gist of it all: Newly-captured African slaves somehow broke free and revolted against their owners aboard a ship called La Amistad. They eventually got brought into the states where they were tried for their wrong-doings, but thanks to their leader, Cinqué (Djimon Hounsou), they are able to have a voice and get a fair trial. Or at least they sure hope so, or else it’s back to the poop-deck for them!

Steven Spielberg is considered one of the greatest directors of all time, and that’s usually something I can never argue against No matter how schmaltzy and disappointing some of his pieces of work can be, you can still count on the fact that every once and a blue moon, he’ll come back in full force and shut our negative mouths up. The guy’s got a knack for doing that and he can do it especially well when he’s telling a true story of those who have suffered the most. Whether he’s focusing on the Jews, the horses, or the living robots from the future, the guy knows how to take one person’s side, show how wronged they are by the rest of society, and let them have their time to shine. Add African slaves onto that list, just not to the tippy-top.

What makes this material so hard-hitting and inspirational in the way that it plays out is the fact that it’s all real, and yes, even though some parts here and there may be fabricated for theatrical-purposes, the main idea of it all stays the same. These were real people who had to go through a real rough time to get their freedom, try to hold onto it for as long as they could, have it taken away from them, and (SPOILER, I guess) then, given right back to them with a full introduction of hope and happiness still in their hearts. It sounds like a sappy story, and the way that Spielberg has it all play out, it certainly can be, but the fact that this a true story, true case, and true. real-life people that went through it all, really touched me more than I expected. And I don’t mean in the Sandusky way, either.

"Why can't anybody understand me? I can speak English too, it's just that nobody's asked me."

“Why can’t anybody understand me? I can speak English too, it’s just that nobody’s asked me. Fuckin’ white people.”

However, this isn’t the type of Spielberg flick where you get all sunshines, rainbows, and a bunch of over-dramatic music-cues; there’s some real smug ugliness to this movie that will catch you by surprise. First of all, the beginning of the flick is quite gruesome where Spielberg shows us, in full-detail, jusr how the Amistad raid occurred, and how the owners of these slaves were killed. It’s a pretty disturbing way to start off with and when it was over, I was slightly relieved because I felt like Spielberg backed away from that dirty stuff and got back on with the emotional-core of the story.

Oh, but how wrong I was.

Somewhere, about half-way through the movie, we get to see what it was like for all of the slaves to be aboard the Amistad, before the raid even occurred, and I have to say, it’s 10-times worse than the opening. You see how all of these people were treated, how they were tortured, put to non-stop work, fed, clothed (if at all), put to sleep, and in many ways, killed. It’s some real, gods-to-honest disturbing stuff that still stays put in my head. Still, I have to give the benefit of the doubt to Spielberg because it never feels like he’s exploiting any of it in the least bit. He’s just showing us how it was to be aboard that slave ship, which means we get a lot of blood, nudity, and grittiness, almost to the point of where you feel dirty just for watching. Some people will rag on Spielberg for usually crapping-out from going all of the way with his nasty-material, but for those naysayers: Watch the beginning and middle-half of this movie and then come back to me saying the same thing.

That whole sequence actually helps the movie out in many ways, but mainly because it has you understand these slaves even more than ever before. Not only does it give them inspiration to take charge with their lives, but it also gives them the right amount of hope and clarity they should have in their lives, and makes us root for them even more. I also like how they weren’t all just portrayed as a bunch of wild, gibberish-speaking black folks; they actually had personalities, they actually had words, they actually had meanings, and in some ways, had more ideas than most of the white people they encounter throughout this whole flick. Spielberg definitely showed his balls with this movie, but when it came back to getting with the story and showing us all how we love to root for the underdog in any story, regardless of if it’s true or not, he’s always solid in my book.

But to be fair, Spielberg isn’t always the most grateful man when it comes to humanizing his stories and doesn’t always let everybody get the same treatment as the Amistad slaves he’s portraying. I get that he wanted us to fully feel the internal-strife that these African slaves were going through, and so by doing so, really put the hammer down on some of those opposed to it, but didn’t feel right to me. It felt like, to me, that Spielberg was a little too quick in his movements to start pointing the fingers at other people for being racist, bigoted, and all about making money, when that was just how the times were. To me, it felt like Spielberg could have taken his hand back and realized that it’s not right to point, no matter how wrong or immoral you thought a certain set of persons or people were. Didn’t your mother ever teach you anything, Steven?!?

And as always with most of Spielberg’s flicks, the guy is always able to assemble a highly-qualified cast of characters and lets everybody do their thang, no matter how showwy or subtle it may be. Rarely does anybody ever go for the latter, but at least they keep it entertaining. Even though he has practically faded into obscurity now for no apparent reason, I was surprised to remember just how much of a powerhouse Djimon Hounsou was. What worked so much for him was that he had these eyes and this physical-prowess to him that showed you so much more than he could probably say or put into words. That’s especially true in this movie, because his character cannot speak English at all, but still gets the chance to show everybody around him what he’s feeling by expressions on his face, the tone in his speech, and the look in his eyes, no matter how cold or inspired they may be. The guy has been nominated twice for an Academy Award, and I was sure as shit surprised to find out that this wasn’t one of them. Still, the guy needs to come back and win something, because he’s a great actor and could also snap my neck with the twitch of his leg. No doubt about that.

Even Djimon is surprised by how over-the-top Anthony is.

Even Djimon is surprised by how over-the-top Anthony is.

The one who did get the Oscar nomination for this movie was Anthony Hopkins, playing former President John Quincy Adams, and does what he does best: Command the screen every chance he gets. Watching Hopkins just take this script, chew it up, swallow it, and spit it out, making himself a new one, was so exciting and entertaining to watch that it was no wonder why he was nominated for this. He shows up every once and awhile throughout the whole movie, but there’s this whole sequence at the end where he just tells it like it is when it comes to politics, living in the U.S., being a human-being, and just doing the right thing, that was compelling the whole time, even if it did seem like Hopkins may have went on some tangents a bit. Still, it’s Anthony Hopkins and the guy always give it a 110% so if anything, there’s always something to see.

Matthew McConaughey plays the lawyer that stands beside the African slaves in the first place and is very, very good, but it almost feels like his role from A Time to Kill, but dashed with some 19th Century apparel, and a goofy, Southern accent to boot. Not to say that there’s anything wrong with that, because the guy was pretty damn solid in both flicks, but it does show you that maybe more originality could have gone into choosing the right people for these roles. Then again, McConaughey’s career seems to have gotten a bit of a resurgence as of late, so I guess it doesn’t matter what happened to him 16 years ago.

The one out of this whole cast that I was really bummed to see play such a bland and mediocre role was Morgan Freeman as Theodore Joadson. He’s an Uncle Tom of sorts, but a man of color nonetheless, which makes it a great role for Freeman to just roam free with everything he has. However, he doesn’t. Don’t get me wrong, Freeman does what he can with this role, but it seems like one of those roles that was made for a small amount of time and only there to be the token black guy on the opposite end of the fence. A dull role that Freeman tries to save, but just can’t help but fall underneath the rest of the cast and story. There’s many more in this cast, as well, but as you can tell, I’ve pretty much exhausted myself talking about these four already, so just know that there’s plenty, plenty more.

Consensus: Steven Spielberg is the king of being schmaltzy and manipulative when it comes to his movies, and Amistad is no exception to the rule, but it still proves to be an inspirational, and very true tale of fighting for what you believe in and doing what we were put on this Earth to do in the first place. Corny, yes, but still gets you in the fighting spirit nonetheless.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Quick! Which one of these things does not look like the others?

Quick! Which one of these things does not look like the others?

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBJoblo

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Presumed Innocent (1990)

Come on Indy! Don’t get caught with your Willy!

Presumed Innocent is about anti-heroic lawyer Rozat “Rusty” Sabich (Harrison Ford), a Kindle County prosecutor and presumptive heir to the Prosecuting Attorney’s office currently occupied by Raymond Horgan (Brian Dennehy). When Rusty’s attractive colleague Carolyn Polhemus (Greta Scacchi) turns up murdered, the evidence points to Rusty, despite his being married with children and the type of dude that would never, ever pull a deadly-stunt like that off. However, is there more going on than he thinks that may point fingers to others out there. Even the people he loves and works with? Only time will tell until everything is revealed.

Old-school mystery thrillers are always my favorite to watch, and for some odd reason, I always get the urge to watch them during the summer time. Don’t know why that’s always been a thing for me. Maybe it’s the weather, maybe it’s the fact that every movie in the summer that’s released or viewed, are usually dumb as hell and require barely any thought, or maybe it’s just a thing I do. I don’t know, maybe it’s as simple as that. No further thinking required.

All of the credit for this film has to go to director Alan J. Pakula for bringing a very moody and tense atmosphere to this flick because it honestly gave me a feeling that I couldn’t trust anybody in this story. It’s a very interesting “whodunit” that keeps you guessing the whole time, even when you think you got it all under control. Usually when courtroom scenes show up, they usually spell-out more hints and clues that make the wider-picture seem so much more obvious, but here, Pakula really seemed to be pulling out the rug right from underneath us, and best of all: he seemed to be enjoying it. That’s what I like in my old-school, mystery-thrillers and watching this one was nowhere near being different.

With a mug like that, yup, he's totally giving himself away.

With a mug like that, he’s totally giving himself away.

But the most important aspect of this story that made it work was the courtroom scenes themselves, some of which; are very smart and well-written. There are plenty of courtroom drama’s out there like A Few Good Men and A Time to Kill that have great and snappy dialogue to get you riled up and excited, but it’s also dialogue that feels very “staged”, which, I guess is the point considering they’re movies and all but it gives you this feel that maybe these certain types of people wouldn’t talk like this, had they actually been put into situations like this. Here, a lot of the courtroom dialogue feels very realistic and everybody that either defends their own case, questioning someone, or objects, all seem like real people actually talking. I know this is a weird compliment to give this flick but it’s just a very rare thing to see a courtroom flick just shoot it straight, without trying to throw out any lines like “You can’t handle the truth!”. Even though, I do have to say that 20 years later, that whole scene/line is still pretty epic.

Problem is, after all of this build-up, all of this suspense, and all of this smart-ass questioning going on in the courtroom, the film still disappoints. BIG TIME. I don’t want to give anything away as to what happens in the end, or even what the end is all about but it features a huge twist on the story and not only makes you think differently about what you just saw but also, all of the characters themselves. This all sounds cool and nifty, but it’s very weird how they approach this ending by having an explanation told in a way that would remind you of a psychotic horror movie character. I knew by the way this story was, there was going to be a big twist in the end, but I didn’t know it was going to be handled in such a lame and anticlimactic way. I’m tempted to throw my whole life away and spill the beans, but I still want to keep my credibility. It’s stupid though. Enough said.

Even though Harrison Ford hasn’t had the best track-record in recent years (even though he was awesome in 42), you still got to give it to the guy because he’s able to pull off the action roles like Indiana Jones or Han Solo, but also able to breakaway from them and pull off some dramatic, regular-guy roles as well. Ford is great here as Rusty showing a lot of emotional strain just in the way he looks and way he sounds, but also distances himself away from the audience and makes you think twice about his character as to whether or not he’s involved with the murder he’s investigating. Actually, this was a pretty cool feature but there comes a point in the film where Rusty eventually does get accused of murdering this gal, and shows barely little or no emotions about it. I get it, the film is trying to make us question whether or not he’s involved with the actual murder, but it just didn’t come off as real considering the guys normal and somewhat happy life is in danger. Still, Ford can rock these roles out very well and he’s no different here.

"Hmm...I guess I'm going to be a dick today too."

“Hmm…I guess I’m going to be a dick today too.”

The rest of the cast is full of a bunch of familiar faces that are sure to make you happy when they pop-up on screen. Raul Julia is a lot of fun to watch as Rusty’s lawyer, who always seems to have a trick up his sleeve and brings a lot of humor and charm to the courtroom scenes, even when they seem to get uber serious; Brian Dennehy is playing one of his usual nasty and corrupt characters here as Rusty’s morally compromised boss; and Greta Scacchi has a couple of good scenes as our murdered lady-friend, Carolyn Polhemus, and it’s pretty easy to see why so many dudes would fall for her, especially a guy like Ford. There’s also plenty of other people to see here too, but I won’t spoil them for you. Just check it out yourself and see how many faces you can make to names. Movies like this are fun like that. Most of the time at least.

Consensus: The tension, the mystery, the mood, the atmosphere, and the acting seemed to all come together for Presumed Innocent by one point to where it was really kicking ass in a way I wasn’t expecting, but because of it’s out-of-nowhere, nutty-twist at the end, major points had to be taken away. But the build-up is still awesome, so expect that.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

"Yeah, we're fucked."

“Yeah, we’re fucked.”

Reversal of Fortune (1990)

Those damn Germans, always causing trouble.

The enigmatic Claus von Bülow (Jeremy Irons) stands accused of putting his wife, Sunny (Glenn Close), into a perpetual coma with an insulin overdose. Claus hires hard-charging attorney Alan Dershowitz (Ron Silver), who scrambles to defend his client — with help from some impassioned Harvard law students — while Sunny narrates flashbacks that shed light on the events that lead to her condition.

The whole film has a plot line that seems it should almost be a tragic drama. However, it combines that weird element of satire and docudrama. I mean its a weird combination, that at some points doesn’t quite work out the best in ways, but still is entertaining.

The praise of this film goes to Director Barbet Schroeder who makes this film a lot of different things, but mostly all just effective. He has this story told with so many flashbacks, and doesn’t leave out a detail that we feel as most that we are the lawyers in this film as well. The movie remains all ambiguous about what actually happened to Sunny, but we still get this feeling as to nothing is right.

I also enjoyed how many courtroom dramas that we know, like A Time To Kill and Primal Fear, all end up in the big courtroom scene, where as this is more about what goes on outside of the courtroom. We see all of the prepping, investigating, and questioning that goes into these cases, and it actually surprises me onto how much the lawyers themselves create so many stories, just to find out the truth.

However, I did have many multiple problems with this film. These “cutesy” students with their quips and their basketball and their sitting crossed-legged on coffee tables were annoying. Even Silver/Dershowitz was irritating with his persistent agonizing and flittering. Also, throughout this film the speed actually sped up, and I was more taken into this film. Then surprisingly, it got slower, and slower, without any real pace at all.

I have to give the most praise to Jeremy Irons, who actually did deserve that Oscar he was given. Although, I think Costner still gave almost a better performance with his material, Irons plays this character with such simplicity and realism, that its actually hard to tell on whether or not he actually did it. You want to hate this guy, cause of the way of his lifestyle, but yet he is so charming and cool that you actually want to be like him in a way. I think a nomination for Best Supporting Actress should have been given to Close, cause with the very few scenes she gets she actually brings out a lot of emotion, that actually has us caring for her character.

Consensus: Though its pace is all over the place and story is bit off setting, this strange film does well with its direction from Schroeder, wonderful writing, and most of all powerful performances from Irons and Close.

8/10=Matinee!!!

A Time to Kill (1996)

Samuel L. Jackson doing more upstaging than ever.

When two white men brutally rape a young black girl in a small Mississippi town, the child’s vengeful father (Samuel L. Jackson) fears their acquittal and takes the law into his own hands. But as his trial date approaches, all hell breaks loose. Aided by lawyer Jake Brigance (Matthew McConaughey) and his spunky legal assistant (Sandra Bullock), the father fights to stay out of prison and salve his daughter’s terrible memories.

A Time To Kill introduces some obvious material and introduces characters we have all seen before. But instead the movie has the way of taking the ordinary and spinning these characters into a very believable story and characters.

Much of the story seems like a typical courtroom drama but doesn’t fall too short for the courtroom cliches. The screenplay is very witty and smart and does fully capture the essence and the feel of John Grisham’s novel. I also did enjoy how I could feel the tension that lied in between the town, between the KKK and the African Americans. It felt real and with almost every scene there was something always new to reignite this feud and it added more of a feel.

The performances turn this film around for the best. Matthew McConaughey, plays probably one his best roles that have could’ve been laughable, but is very believable with his utterly strong but sane performance. Samuel L. Jackson upstages everyone in this film and plays a different person. He’s not the tough S.O.B you knew him in all his others, he’s actually kind and does feel regret towards his actions and were able to feel his emotion coming through his performance.

By the end of the film though it started to feel like this film was a little too cornball. Matthew’s speech by the end of the film felt too forced and very obvious along with the end result which feels like it was not very believable.

The story is a theme on the great separation between whites and blacks, and I felt like this was brought out very well if it weren’t for some of the clan scenes. I did like their feud I just didn’t feel it was too needed to create a huge feud and the extra violence was put in just to be put in.

Consensus: The strong and convincing performances, along with a clever script make this film good but at times falls for the obvious cliches all courtroom dramas have.

7/10=Rentall!!!