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D [Category A]

Dead Man Walking
Decoration Day
Defending Your Life
Devil's Advocate
Dirty Pictures

Danton (1983)

A magnificent film, beautifully directed by Andrzej Wajda, about "The Terror," the bloody aftermath of the French revolution. This is an eye-opener for Americans who thought the French revolution was mostly about the storming of the Bastille and cries of "Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite." This film, in gorgeous French with faithful English subtitles, shows the post-revolutionary trials - witch hunts intended to quell any dissent - led by Maximillian Robespierre. These are among the first political trials of the Western world (excluding the Salem witch trials, though there are similarities), and their legacy, aside from the guillotine, still echoes in post-revolutionary worlds today, from Iran to the show trials of Communist China. Georges Danton (Gerald Depardieu), an old ami of Robespierre, created the Tribunals, and eventually dies in their custody.

Director Andrzej Wajda filmed the movie in France in 1981, but he was obviously thinking of Poland under the Soviet boot and the need for people to rise up to overthrow tyranny. Many of the actors are Polish, and it seemed as if they were speaking Polish, though dubbed in French. While the film shows the terrible fear of the police and the rampant arrests, I couldn't help thinking of all the legal rights we have inherited from the French Revolution: the right to a written indictment listing the charges against the accused, the right to a public trial (there seemed to be the most outrage when a reporter was excluded from Danton's trial), the right to call witnesses, and the right to speak in one's own defense. It was the violation of these rights at Danton's trial that helped push the people to overthrow the tribunal, though not in time to save his life. A very moving film that should be studied for its subtle commentary on class and poverty as well as its eternal themes of the importance of procedure in safeguarding the rights of the accused.

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Dead Man Walking (1995)

Written and directed by Tim Robbins, based on the book by Sister Helen Prejean, the movie focuses on the work of a nun, played by Susan Sarandon, on death row, both with a man facing the death penalty (Sean Penn) and with the families of those he murdered.

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Decoration Day (1990)

Based on the novella by John William Corrington, a lawyer, poet, and author, this made-for-television movie is the story of a retired judge, played by James Garner, who turns detective to try to understand why an embittered former friend, played by Bill Cobb, is refusing a Medal of Honor. I have not yet seen this film, but it has tremendous word of mouth.

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Defending Your Life (1991)

Written by, and starring, actor/comedian Albert Brooks, and co-starring the always wonderful Meryl Streep, this comedy envisions an afterlife in which people have to defend their lives in court --- a literal Judgment Day. You're the defendant, accused of cowardice, and you must prove how brave you were in life to enter heaven. You'd think purgatory would have legal procedures that are not as daunting or confusing as those of a typical U.S. courtroom, but apparently not. Enjoyable romance and a bit thought-provoking as well.

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Devil's Advocate (1997)

This film, directed by Taylor Hackford, reminded me of what it felt like to work in a law firm in New York City. But don't let that deter you from watching it. Written by Jonathan Lemkin and Tony Gilroy, based on the novel by Andrew Neiderman, the plot focuses on an ambitious Florida lawyer who is hired by a New York law firm and learns his boss is Lucifer, wonderfully played by Al Pacino. The devil heads many firms in New York, of course, but the young man here, played by Keanu Reeves, and his wife, Charlize Theron, have a harder time realizing it than most young associates do. This movie, which is almost as frightening as real-life practice in New York, should be seen by any law school grad contemplating large law firm life. (Remember that the devil opens a branch office in Florida during election years).

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Dirty Pictures (2000)

Directed by Frank Pierson, this film/documentary narrates the trial of Dennis Barrie, the director of the Cincinnati art museum who was prosecuted when, in 1990, the museum exhibited photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe that some people considered obscene. I remember this trial, and the pro-prosecution rulings that the judge handed down, so the jury's acquittal was quite satisfying. The movie combines a presentation of the trial, featuring James Woods, with commentary by cultural commentators, from William F. Buckley on the right through Congressman Barney Frank, novelist Salman Rushdie, writer Fran Lebowitz, and actress Susan Sarandon on the left.

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