[Screen It]


(1996) (Matthew McConaughey, Samuel Jackson, Sandra Bullock) (R)

Blood/Gore Disrespectful/
Bad Attitude
Tense Scenes
Heavy Moderate Heavy Heavy Moderate
Mild None Moderate None Moderate
Smoking Tense Family
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Drama: A young, inexperienced lawyer defends a black man on trial for murdering two white men who raped his daughter.
In Canton, Mississippi, two white rednecks abduct, rape and nearly kill a ten-year-old black girl. Her father, Carl Lee Hailey (SAMUEL JACKSON), is understandably infuriated and believing that the two men might walk, takes the law into his own hands and kills them. Imprisoned and facing capital murder charges, he wants Jake Brigance (MATTHEW McCONAUGHEY), a young, inexperienced and financially troubled lawyer as his attorney. Jake takes the case despite advice from his alcoholic lawyer friend Harry Rex Vonner (OLIVER PLATT), Judge Noose (PATRICK McGOOHAN) and wife Carla (ASHLEY JUDD) to not take it. His only supporter is his former mentor and now disbarred alcoholic, Lucien Wilbanks (DONALD SUTHERLAND). Jake feels compelled to take the case partly because Carl Lee had early implied to him what he might do, and now Jake feels guilty over an action he may have been able to stop. Meanwhile, DA Rufus Buckley (KEVIN SPACEY), making his way up to the Governor's office, can't wait to tackle this one, as is the case with Ellen Roark (SANDRA BULLOCK), a young, rich law student who wants to join the defense. Things begin to get sticky when the KKK rears its ugly head, characterized by Freddie Cobb (KIEFER SUTHERLAND), a brother to one of the slain men. Everything comes to a full boil when the case finally has its day in court.
There's a lot of star power here that might draw kids to this one. Also, Matthew McConaughey is now a teen heartthrob and this is a John Grisham (The Firm, Pelican Brief etc...) story so there are draws all across the board.
For violence and some graphic language.
  • MATTHEW McCONAUGHEY plays a defender of the downtrodden, and despite his oath to defend his client by any means possible, the fact that he knows that Carl Lee's actions were premeditated is troubling for the character's integrity.
  • SAMUEL JACKSON plays the distraught father emotionally pushed to violence who has no remorse for his actions.
  • SANDRA BULLOCK plays a young, determined and bright law student. Despite breaking into an office to obtain evidence, she's a good role model.
  • KIEFFER SUTHERLAND plays a violent racist and thus isn't a good role model.


    OUR TAKE: 8 out of 10
    The second best of the Grisham adaptions to the big screen ("The Firm" still being the best), this film is dramatically enjoyable and thought provoking. The performances are superb all the way down to the supporting characters and other than a few flaws (such as why it takes Jake so long to accept Roark's help when it's obvious that he desperately needs it), the plot works very well. Despite the subject material and some very ugly scenes, we highly recommend this movie and give it an 8 out of 10.
    Despite our praise of the movie, parents should be alerted that the film is full of racial tension, hatred and violence. There is also a disturbing rape scene involving a ten-year-old girl that is recounted in detail in the court room. A more subtle disturbing point is that we know, as does Jake, that Carl Lee's actions were premeditated. Yet, he is defended as having been temporarily insane. True, a lawyer's duty is to defend his/her client any way they can, but this is still something you may wish to discuss with your kids. Granted, in our opinion, the subject matter is too extreme for younger children and parents should consider whether their kids are mature enough to see this one.

  • Two rednecks drink in their pickup truck and later buy several six packs in a local market.
  • The two rednecks are in a bar drinking when they are arrested.
  • Lucien is seen drinking and is drunk quite often and is known to be a drunk.
  • Harry is seen drinking quite often and appears to having a drinking problem.
  • Freddie is seen drinking.
  • Roark is drinking beer in public and throws a beer to Jake who eventually gives it back to her.
  • Jake has a drink with a drunk Lucien who introduces their key psychiatrist witness, who is also a drunk.
  • Jake is later seen hung over, and Roark notices his parking job from the night before indicating that he was drunk driving.
  • Jake and Roark drink shots at a restaurant.
  • Jake has been drinking in his office.
  • The ten-year-old's legs are bloody after the rape and beating, and later is seen with a bruised and bloody face.
  • There's some blood on and around the two rednecks after they've been shot with the machine gun.
  • Jake is seen with a good amount of blood on his clothes after the courthouse shooting incident.
  • Blood squirts out from the neck of a national guardsman after he's been shot.
  • Roark's face is bloody and bruised after having been beaten and tied to a tree by Klansmen.
  • White rednecks, KKK members, and members of the jury refer to black people as "niggers."
  • There is a lot of racism throughout the movie, personified at the beginning by the two rednecks and how they relate to black people. They throw a bottle of liquor at some boys, one of them spits on another boy and they go into a market and knock things over, and they call a black child "boy."
  • Before they rape the ten-year-old girl, one redneck tells another, "If they're old enough to crawl, they're in the right position." They then do horrible things to her (see "Violence").
  • Freddie says if this was ten years ago, "That nigger would be hanging from a tree with his balls in his mouth."
  • Freddie and his buddies want to bring the KKK back to Canton. They meet with the Klan and are inducted. From then on, they harass many different people on the case, protest at the courthouse and beat up several people, burn crosses on lawns and burn down Jake's home.
  • A jury member, talking about the case before they're supposed to, tells the others the sooner they talk about it, the sooner they'll be able to go home, and says "that nigger is dead."
  • Roark breaks into a psychiatrist's office to find dirt on him.
  • Nearly all of the scenes listed in "Violence" fall under this category and many of them are VERY tense.
  • Machine Gun: Used by Carl Lee to kill the two rednecks and accidentally injure a deputy who is escorting them. The deputy later loses his leg from the injury.
  • Bomb: A redneck is caught planting a briefcase under Jake's home. Jake pulls out the dynamite and throws it into the air just as it explodes. No one is hurt.
  • Molotov cocktail: Thrown onto a Klansman during a riot which sets him on fire.
  • Knife: Used during a riot to cut Jake on the back of his leg.
  • Sniper rifle: Used by Freddie to shoot at Jake and company as they exit the courthouse. But a National guardsman is hit instead.
  • Handgun: Pulled out by Jake when he hears someone at his office door, but it's his wife.
  • Racist beliefs and behavior.
  • Phrase: "Shut up."
  • Roark gives Harry "the finger" as they talk about the court case.
  • None.
  • Many of the tense and/or violent scenes are accompanied by rather suspenseful music.
  • None.
  • 5 "s" words, 9 "ass" words, 8 hells, 2 craps, 2 damns, 1 SOB, and 1 use each of "God damn," and "Lord" as exclamations.
  • Jake and Harry tease Ethel (the office secretary) about Lucien being her boyfriend. She gets mad and leaves. They then joke that "they did it."
  • Harry lusts after Roark and when she leaves he says, "You've got to love the Lord for making things like that."
  • Roark takes a quick sneak peek at Jake's bare buttocks as she bandages his knife wound (no nudity is seen).
  • There is some sexual tension between the married Jake and the single Roark, but nothing comes of it, and young kids probably won't notice it.
  • Innuendo: The D.A. tells Roark, "I guess he's paying you in other ways" when referring to the fact that Jake isn't paying her for her help.
  • Roark is seen in her underwear after men tear off her clothes and tie her to a tree.
  • One of the rednecks smokes in several scenes.
  • Freddie is seen smoking several times as are his buddies.
  • The D.A. and another man are seen smoking cigars.
  • A checkout lady smokes.
  • Roark occasionally smokes.
  • Roark and Harry are seen smoking.
  • Jury members are seen smoking.
  • Carl Lee comes home to comfort his family and daughter after she's been raped and beaten.
  • Carl Lee says goodbye to his family as he gives himself up to the police after shooting the two men.
  • Jake's wife is very upset about the case and the threats toward her and her family. She and Jake argue and their daughter comes out and asks them if they're fighting. Eventually she and the daughter leave (for safety) and the marriage seems a bit strained.
  • Racism and the KKK.
  • Whether Carl Lee should be innocent or guilty.
  • Whether a black man could receive a fair trial in a white society.
  • Retaliation and taking the law into your own hands.
  • Rape.
  • One of the rednecks throws his bottle of liquor at several black boys and says "What are you looking at? Do you wanna get shot?"
  • One of the rednecks throws a beer at and hits a ten-year-old girl knocking her groceries from her hands. They then get out, abduct, and tie her up. They then proceed to beat and rape her (not actually shown) hang her (rope is thrown around a tree, her feet dangle in the air, and then the tree branch breaks), and then dump in her into the back of their pickup truck. She does, however, survive.
  • The sheriff and deputies arrest the two rednecks, who at first resist and thus get a beating from the sheriff and the deputies.
  • Carl Lee runs through the courthouse carrying a machine gun and kills the two rednecks and injures a deputy who is escorting them.
  • Freddie says if this was ten years ago, "That nigger would be hanging from a tree with his balls in his mouth."
  • Jake receives a threatening telephone call.
  • A cross is burned at night on the Brigance front lawn.
  • A redneck plants a bomb under Jake's house, but is caught before he can leave. Jake kicks the man twice, and the sheriff repeatedly beats the man on the legs with his night stick. Jake then throws the dynamite into the air just as it explodes. Jake slugs the man in the face.
  • Klan people grab Ethel and her husband and severely beat him. He later dies from the beating.
  • The Klan marches to the courthouse and tensions rise as blacks and Klan members yell at each other. A black woman finally hits one of the Klansmen after he calls her "an animal." A full scale riot breaks out with people hitting and kicking each other. A man throws a Molotov cocktail onto a Klansman which sets him on fire. Jake runs out and throws some punches. A man pulls out a knife and prepares to cut the sheriff but instead gets Jake on the back of the leg.
  • A burning cross is thrown onto the jail grounds and another is thrown onto Jake's property. Later his house is seen fully engulfed in flames as it burns to the ground.
  • Freddie acts as a sniper and fires at Jake and company when they leave the courthouse. A national guardsman is hit instead.
  • A deputy and other rednecks abduct Roark and tie her to a tree. They pull much of her clothing off and are going to leave her way out in the woods where the animals will get her. Freddie then bangs her head against the tree, knocking her out.
  • It's stated during the trial that the defense's psychiatrist was convicted of statutory rape decades ago. It's later stated that he was 23 and she was 17 and that they later married and had kids.
  • The rape and beating of the ten-year-old girl are described by Jake in a long sequence. It's stated that they threw full beer cans at her which cut her skin to the bone. They then raped her so severely that she'll never have children. Later they urinated on her and then tried to hang her. After that they dumped her from a bridge thirty feet to a creek below.

  • Reviewed July 13, 1996

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