The courtroom drama genre is one of the richest in film history. From 12 Angry Men to The Verdict, Kramer vs. Kramer to A Few Good Men, some of the greatest stories in the medium have revolved around our legal system. What’s a shame is that this type of movie has all but disappeared from theaters.
Watching The Lincoln Lawyer two weeks back I was reminded of how great courtroom dramas can be and realized that we get to see very few of them nowadays. So with the Matthew McConaughey film set to be released on Friday, I decided to analyze the new flick and pick out the five best films from the genre that will get you in the mood to watch lawyers, judges and juries do their thing. Read on below for the five movies you should watch to get ready for The Lincoln Lawyer.
A Time To Kill
Unless you haven’t ready anything about The Lincoln Lawyer before opening and reading this article, the connection between these two films is fairly simple: Matthew McConaughey. Discounting Dazed and Confused, which is pretty much the actor playing a heightened version of himself, nearly every movie fan will tell you that A Time To Kill is McConaughey’s best performance and best film. In the film he plays Jake Tyler Brigance, an idealistic young lawyer who is given the near-impossible task of defending a black man named Carl Lee Hailey (Samuel L. Jackson) who has killed the two men that raped and savagely beat his daughter. Oh, and did I mention that the film is set in Mississippi where the Ku Klux Klan is starting to reform?
McConaughey is so fantastic in this part that one must wonder why he didn’t let himself get typecast as a lawyer for the rest of his career. Going through the history of courtroom dramas, there are few better closing arguments than Brigance’s, which is capped off by the perfect, “Now imagine she's white.” If you do a double feature of A Time To Kill with The Lincoln Lawyer I’m fairly confident that every copy of How To Lose A Guy in 10 Days in the universe fades away into nothingness.
Getting back to the point that I made in the introduction, modern courtroom dramas have almost reached the point of nonexistence, but the most solid one to come out in the last decade is the Gary Fleder-directed Runaway Jury, based on the novel by John Grisham. Is it a movie that will stand up through history alongside 12 Angry Men? Certainly not, but it does show how the genre can be adapted for the modern, ADD audience. Much like The Lincoln Lawyer, this film is fast-paced enough to almost be considered a thriller and, much like the new film, has an outstanding cast with no weak link.
The real sad thing here is that we had to wait eight years after the release of Runaway Jury to see another film like it come out in theaters. If you’re as outraged by that fact as I am, then please do the movie world a favor and go buy a ticket to see The Lincoln Lawyer this weekend. The only way to bring a genre back is by showing it the green.
In this genre it never hurts to have a compelling client for the protagonist to defend, and in the case of both Primal Fear and The Lincoln Lawyer the detail that makes the client interesting is the same: they are both evil sonsabitches. The big difference is a matter of when we learn about their true nature. In the 1996 film, we are led to believe throughout the entire film that Richard Gere’s Martin Vail is fighting on the side of right, helping an abused, stuttering altar boy (Edward Norton) with split personalities be acquitted of murder. The twist? That innocent little boy knew exactly what he was doing when he killed both an archbishop and his own girlfriend. Surprise!
In The Lincoln Lawyer the audience doesn’t have to wait to discover that Ryan Phillippe’s Louis Roulet is a sick bastard, but that just adds to the fun as the two play cat-and-mouse with each other for 120 minutes. There is a dark side to watching these two films together, though: you might suddenly realize that there are a few gaping holes in our legal system.
To Kill A Mockingbird
When he’s in court or at work, McConaughey’s Mick Haller is a smooth operator with ice in his veins. That, however, is not his entire character. In reality, Haller is also a father of an eight year old daughter and, while he’s divorced, he still cares very much about the mother of his child. So what better way to celebrate this aspect of his character than by watching the greatest father/lawyer in the history of film: Atticus Finch. Both characters do their best to balance their professional and personal lives while trying to prevent them from intersecting.
The one drawback of watching To Kill A Mockingbird prior to The Lincoln Lawyer is that Finch is one of the best characters in history (the best according to AFI) and Haller might suffer by the comparison. Still, any excuse to watch one of the greatest courtroom dramas of all time is a good excuse.
My Cousin Vinny
Okay, so I’m kind of cheating here. That headline says that this is supposed to be a list of five courtroom dramas to watch before seeing The Lincoln Lawyer, and this entry is anything but a drama. Still, it has its place. In addition to being a family man with a commitment to the law and his client, he also has a softer, funnier side, and no movie involving a courtroom is funnier than My Cousin Vinny. Also not hurting anything is that Marisa Tomei happens to be in both films, Vinny actually winning her an Oscar back in 1992.
While The Lincoln Lawyer is definitely more drama than comedy, I also feel that being in the right mood for it will increase your ability to enjoy it (hence this list). Each entry in this article focuses on a different aspect of The Lincoln Lawyer and explores another film that will help you appreciate it. My Cousin Vinny’s job is to remind you just how much fun this forgotten genre can be.