[Screen It]


(1996) (Chris O'Donnell, Gene Hackman) (R)

Blood/Gore Disrespectful/
Bad Attitude
Tense Scenes
Moderate Mild Heavy Mild Moderate
Moderate Minor Mild None Moderate
Smoking Tense Family
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Drama: A young lawyer attempts to force a stay of execution for a convicted murderer who happens to be his grandfather.
In Mississippi in 1967 an explosion kills two small children. Captured and convicted is Sam Cayhall (GENE HACKMAN), a southern racist. Ordered to be put to death, he's been sitting on death row up until today. But he only has 28 days to live and that's why a young idealistic lawyer, Adam Hall (CHRIS O'DONNELL), decides to take the final appeals case. It also happens that he's Cayhall's grandson. As Hall frantically works to find something to cause a stay of execution, Gov. McCallister (DAVID MARSHALL GRANT) gets worried that he may dig up some things that are better off remaining buried. Formerly the prosecutor who got a guilty verdict after two other unsuccessful attempts, McCallister assigns his aide Nora Stark (LELA ROCHON) to watch Hall's moves. But she ends up helping him discover evidence of another suspect, Rollie Wedge (RAYMOND BARRY) that may just stop the execution. From then on, Hall must deal with Cayhall, a socialite aunt, Lee Bowen (FAYE DUNAWAY), who's not happy to have this case brought up again, and time which continually slips away from him and Cayhall.
The story won't draw them in, but Chris O'Donnell (the Robin character in the "Batman" movie series) could, as might the fact that this is another adaption of a John Grisham ("The Firm," "A Time to Kill," "The Pelican Brief," etc...) novel.
For violent images and some language.
  • CHRIS O'DONNELL is an idealistic young lawyer who will try anything to save his client, his grandfather, from being executed.
  • GENE HACKMAN is a cranky old racist scheduled to be executed for murdering several children in a bomb blast.


    OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
    Ah yes, another John Grisham novel being churned out by the Hollywood film factory. Set in the South and dealing with lawyers, death and racism, this story sounds similar to some of his other works, but pales in comparison (especially to the adaption we like best: "The Firm"). The main reason this story doesn't catch on is that the protagonist, O'Donnell, is trying to save a character that we just don't care about. Hackman's a great actor and he does an excellent job of creating this old, cantankerous racist, but therein lies the problem. We don't like the guy, O'Donnell doesn't like him, and he doesn't even like himself. Although they try to soften him up a bit toward the end of the movie, the damage is already done and we don't have any emotional stake in whether the guy's saved or not. Compare that to "A Time to Kill" where the Samuel Jackson character did kill someone, but did so in rage for his daughter being raped and beaten. He was a murderer, but we cared about him. Not so in this film, and while the acting's decent all around, the movie just can't survive that fatal flaw nor the lack of any true motivation for Adam to defend this man he can't even bring himself to like. In addition, the movie doesn't provide the legal fireworks or plot twists and turns that audiences now expect from Grisham adaptions. We give this one just a 5 out of 10.
    The big issues here are that of racism (and the KKK) and that of the death penalty. Bad attitudes are thick and heavy and the violence that occurs (a deadly explosion, a shooting and an execution) is all related in one way or another to racism. Profanity is moderate, and there's no sex other than some brief, indirect conversations. Older teens might be able to appreciate the issues that this movie brings up, but younger kids probably aren't mature enough to understand or handle the topics. As always, we suggest you examine all of the scene listings in every category before allowing any children to see this film.

  • A husband tells his wife "Never mix bourbon with champagne" as both of them wake up hung over.
  • People are seen drinking at one of Lee's parties.
  • A former FBI agent has an open beer on his boat as he drives along.
  • Nora and other people are seen drinking in a bar.
  • Sam tells a story about a previous execution where the executioner was drunk and didn't get the chemical mix right and had to go through the whole process over again.
  • It turns out Lee is an alcoholic and Adam finds her very drunk in one scene.
  • Men drink beer at a present day Klan meeting.
  • There are several scenes showing a flashback of the aftermath of the suicide of Adam's father. There's a mild amount of blood on the floor and blood spray elsewhere.
  • Sam tells the story of a previous botched execution where the prisoner banged his head against a pole so many times that a piece of his brain flew from his head.
  • Adam's a bit bruised and bloody after a group of young men beat him up at a Klan rally.
  • Sam is very much a racist and uses the terms "nigger" and "Jew boy" frequently (and "Jungle Bunny" once) and talks about how dispensing with both sets of people is a good thing. He also blames aids, drugs and "bastard children" on black people.
  • Rollie and others are just as bigoted as Sam.
  • Adam asks Sam why he became a Klansman. He tells him that it ran in his family back through several generations.
  • Sam refers to the two children who he killed in the explosion as "casualties of war."
  • It's said after Sam killed a black man with his shotgun, he claimed it was in self defense and was never charged with anything.
  • It's discovered that a "white sovereignty council" voted to have Sam blow up the building where the two kids were killed.
  • Adam visits the mother of the kids who were killed thirty years ago and asks her to ask the Governor to spare Sam's life.
  • Adam finds a bomb counting down in his hotel room closet. But all it does it let off a big bang and leave him with a warning message to leave things the way they are.
  • Sam tells the story of a previous execution that didn't go smoothly and talks about the prisoner beating his head back against a metal pole (until a piece of his brain flew out) and foaming at the mouth. Some viewers may find the details unsettling.
  • Nora and Adam sneak into a secure records room and may be discovered rifling through files at any moment.
  • Adam is grabbed by several young men at a Klan rally. They take him outside and proceed to beat and kick him many times. Rollie then comes out and holds his gun on Adam threatening to shoot him. He does fire the gun, but misses on purpose.
  • The fact of whether Sam will be executed or not as the hours and minutes tick closer to the end might be viewed by some as tense.
  • Bomb: Used in the 1960's to blow up a building and kill two children inside.
  • Shotgun: Used in 1980 by Adam's father to commit suicide (only the aftermath is seen).
  • Shotgun: Used by Sam to shoot and kill a black man after their two sons were fighting over a lost toy.
  • Handgun: Used by Rollie to threaten Adam and fired near his head to nail down his point.
  • Phrases: "Nigger," "Jew boy," "Jungle Bunny," "Balls," "Piss," "Shut up," "Bastard," and "Scum bag."
  • All of the racist slogans, beliefs and activities.
  • A former FBI agent has an open beer on his boat as he drives along.
  • Several signs seen at the prison read, "Gas his ass."
  • A huge explosion rips apart a building and kills two kids who were looking out the windows.
  • An FBI agent startles Adam in a darkened room.
  • Only a few scenes have mild, suspenseful music in them.
  • None.
  • 1 "f" word, 4 "s" words, 13 hells, 8 SOB's, 5 damns, 3 "ass" words, 2 craps and 3 uses of "Jesus," 2 of "God damn," and 1 each of "Christ," "For God's sake," "Oh my God," and "Jesus Christ" as exclamations.
  • Several signs seen at the prison read "Gas his ass."
  • Lee tells Adam that she has "the mothers of the last remaining twelve virgins panting" to meet him.
  • Lee tells Adam that she and her husband lead romantic lives, but not together (Implying approved adultery).
  • Sam refers to setting off his first bomb as "losing his virginity."
  • The governor asks Nora if she's sleeping with Adam. She says no. He then says maybe she should (implying she could then find out what his legal plans are).
  • Sam smokes in several scenes.
  • Lee smokes a cigarette in three scenes.
  • Men are seen smoking at present day Klan meeting.
  • Adam's lawyer boss smokes a cigar.
  • The father of the two dead children confronts Sam outside a courthouse on TV footage.
  • Lee and Eddie (as kids) watch their father, Sam, kill a black man in cold blood.
  • Adam talks about his father's suicide and how a note was left telling him (as a ten-year-old) to clean up the mess before his sisters came home.
  • Adam and Lee must deal with the fact that their grandfather/father is to die for being a racist murderer.
  • The mother of the two dead children tells Adam (in the present) about that fateful day (of their deaths).
  • Racism and the KKK.
  • The death penalty.
  • Suicide.
  • Defending a client (who admits he's guilty) by trying to find a legal loophole to circumvent the law.
  • A huge explosion rips apart a building and kills two kids who were looking out the windows (seen twice).
  • Adam finds a bomb counting down in his hotel room closet. But all it does it let off a big bang and leave him with a warning message to leave things the way they are.
  • Adam's father, Eddie, (as a ten-year-old) and another boy fight (mainly wrestling) over a missing toy. The black boy runs home and gets his father and then the father and Sam get into a fight. Sam beats him up and then starts beating him with a rake. The man tells his son to go home and get his shotgun and Sam tells Eddie to do the same. Sam gets his shotgun first and shoots the other man dead on the spot. (And later claimed it was in self defense).
  • Sam threatens Adam, "Speak to me again like this and I'll rip your heart out and shove it up your butt."
  • There's a picture of past lynching where two black men are seen hanging from a tree.
  • A white and black man fight each other with bare fists in a wagered contest.
  • Adam is grabbed by several young men at a Klan rally. They take him outside and proceed to beat and kick him many times. Rollie then comes out and holds his gun on Adam threatening to shoot him. He does fire the gun, but misses on purpose and then tells Adam he'll always have to look behind him after all of this is done and over.
  • A prisoner is seen being executed in the gas chamber.

  • Reviewed October 11, 1996

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