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Lawyers in the Movies

T [Category A]

A Tale of Two Cities
The Thin Blue Line
A Time to Kill
To Kill a Mockingbird
The Trial (Prozess)
Trial and Error
Trial by Jury
The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald
True Believer
12 Angry Men
Two Weeks' Notice

The Thin Blue Line (1988)

This documentary, written and directed by Errol Morris, features in-depth interviews with people after a young man was wrongly convicted for murdering a police officer in Dallas County, Texas. A very powerful film showing how a prosecutor, a judge, and community pressure can aid and abet another crime - a false conviction - after a senseless murder.

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To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)

Directed by Robert Mulligan, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Harper Lee, this movie has become a classic film that you should watch whenever you forget why you became a lawyer. Gregory Peck portrays a public defender, Atticus Finch, in a small Southern town. (Harper Lee is from Monroeville, Alabama, and the courtroom in the film was modeled on a courtroom in her hometown). A black man (Brock Peters) is falsely accused of rape, and Atticus Finch steps up to defend him, losing friends in the process and exposing his children to the prejudices and judgments of the town. The movie, like the book, focuses on the lawyer's relationship with his children, which makes it, I think, a slightly easier movie to watch, though still painful no matter how often I watch it. (The magnificent actor who plays the accused apparently broke down weeping on the stand during filming). The story is seen and told largely through the eyes of "Scout," the young girl (played by Mary Badham) struggling to understand her father and the passions of her community. Atticus Finch has become an icon for many lawyers. (Finch is the maiden name of author Harper Lee's mother). I think the power of the movie and the book is its honesty in showing how easy it is for the trial process to be perverted by emotion and prejudice, but nonetheless how important it is for lawyers to believe in the process - particularly the appeals process - to bring justice to bear.

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The Trial (Prozess) (1993)

There have been many adaptations of the Franz Kafka novel, of course, notably a 1962 film and directed by Orson Welles, called Le Procès. This movie was directed by David Hugh Jones, based, of course, on the novel by Franz Kafka and adapted for the screen by Harold Pinter. The film relays the experience of a man, Josef K., who is mysteriously arrested for an unspecified crime. Probably the novel and the film (which I haven't seen) come closest to showing the real feelings of many of those caught up in the legal system: Why Me? What Did I Do? And How Do I Make it Stop? According to the Internet Movie Database, this film is quite faithful to the Kafka novel and well-acted. Certainly, the cast couldn't be better: Kyle MacLachlan as Josef K., Anthony Hopkins as The Priest, Jason Robards as the Doctor, and Juliet Stevenson, Polly Walker, and Alfred Molina.

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Trial and Error (1997)

I have not seen this movie. The Internet Movie Database states: "Directed by Jonathan Lynn. Cast: Michael Richards, Jeff Daniels, Charlize Theron, Jessica Steen, Rip Torn. An actor throws his lawyer friend a bachelor party blast that renders his pal unable to appear in court. The actor goes to trial instead, giving the performance of his career while turning the courtroom upside down."

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Trial by Jury (1994)

Co-written and directed by Heywood Gould, this film focuses on a jury investigating the Mafia. The life of a juror's son is threatened, and she must somehow save herself, her son, and see justice done. I have not seen this movie, and usually the Mafia just bribes a juror (you only need one hold-out for an acquittal) rather than kidnapping the juror, but apparently this was an exciting, well-done movie featuring two wonderful actors, Gabriel Byrne and William Hurt.

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The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald (1976)

This film, which I have not seen, posits what would have happened if Lee Harvey Oswald had not been killed by Jack Ruby, but had survived to stand trial for the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

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True Believer (1989)

I very much enjoyed this movie, which shows a cynical, closed-minded defense attorney, wonderfully played by James Woods, trying to mentor a younger, idealistic lawyer, played by Robert Downey, Jr. Directed by Joseph Ruben, the film's plot twists are sometimes hard to follow, but the relationship between the older man, who has been working on automatic pilot for many years as he defends drug dealers, and the younger man, just out of law school, is fascinating. The older attorney reluctantly takes on the case of a Korean man who has been in jail for eight years, convicted of murder. His mother insists he is innocent.

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Two Weeks' Notice (2002)

Written and directed by Marc Lawrence, this film, which I haven't seen, seems to fulfill many in-house counsel's fantasies. A brilliant commercial real estate attorney, played by the sensational Sandra Bullock, feels her client takes her for granted, and she's tired of the ulcers. So of course she walks out, after which her charming, fabulously wealthy client, who has an English accent to boot (Hugh Grant), realizes that he not only needs her, but that he loves her. I've got to see this movie. It sounds like a great comedy in more ways than one. I suppose you could use this movie to explore who feels less appreciated and understood: lawyers by clients, or clients by lawyers.

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