- Movie Rating -

. . . and justice for all (1979)

| October 19, 1979

I tend to dislike movies in which the outward inspiration is written all over it.  You can physically see the movie that it trying to imitate is stamped on every frame.  For Norman Jewison’s . . . and Justice for All you can feel the chimes of Network, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, All the President’s Men, Coming Home, Serpico, movies about men fed up with a rotten system who speak for the little guy.

Of course, there’s really nothing wrong with this, but . . . and Justice for All kind of throws its social commentary around and doesn’t seem to care where it lands.  The script by Barry Levinson and Valerie Curtin uses speechifying in place of coherency so that we we’re seeing something profound when in reality we’re just hearing empty words on a page.

When farce and social commentary mix well, we get great cinema but when they fail, we get this movie which tries to take on the rotten core of the American justice system via a performance by Pacino that could be summed up on the side of a cereal box.  He plays Arthur Kirkland, a Baltimore lawyer who has a reputation as a great lawyer and a very ethical man.

We have to take everyone at their word though, we never really see this in his character do anything ethical and all we see in the courtroom is the same stuff that Gregory Peck did much better in To Kill a Mocking Bird.  Every trial is an uphill climb that finds him falling to the bottom – he loses constantly, he breaks his lawyer/client confidentiality and he gets in fights in the courtroom in scenes that never have any sense of reality to them – it’s all movie stuff.

The center of the film concerns Kirkland’s difficulty taking on client who is accused of rape and also happens to be Judge Henry Fleming (John Forsythe), a hard-bitten conservative jerkola who would rather hang a man from the gallows as see him as a person – he and Kirkland have been mortal enemies for years and on at least one occasion Fleming has had Kirkland thrown in jail for contempt.  At any rate, Kirkland takes the case in hopes that the judge will go easy on one of his clients, a kid who his being railroaded through the system after he was arrested on a cast of mistaken identity.

What derails the film is the fact that often it tries to be a comedy by packing in a lot of subplots to show how bizarre and chaotic Arthur’s world really is, whether is be a transvestite afraid of jail, or a judge on the brink of suicide or a lawyer losing his grip after letting a killer go free.  The balance between heavy drama and situation comedy-style farce gives the movie some very serious tone problems.  Maybe if the movie had stayed with its dramatic arc, it might have worked.  It needed focus, it needed to be nailed down to its core issues.  It wants to be the rallying cry of the little man just like Network and Serpico and Cuckoo’s Nest but it’s just a lot of screaming and shameless sermonizing.  Case dismissed.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1979) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized