By Judy Berman
Courtroom dramas. Noble attorneys, jurors who stick to their convictions despite the opposition of their peers, courtrooms that are just out of control, and justice as an elusive end product.
As a reporter, I covered quite a few trials. Some of the verdicts took me by surprise, as did some of the tactics used to sway a jury. Few of them, however, quite measured up to Hollywood’s portrayals of the legal system.
So, I began to wonder what would be the odds for me if my fate rested on a Hollywood lawyer or jury? Here are a few possibilities:
- This year marks the 50th anniversary of the movie To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch. He’s an honest man assigned to a case he’s doomed to lose – even though his client is innocent.
Several characters, who are innocents, take a hit in this drama. They were destroyed or injured by evil: Tom Robinson (played by Brock Peters), a black fieldhand, accused of raping a white woman, is unable to get a fair trial. Boo Radley (Robert Duval), a recluse who lives near Scout (Mary Badham) and her brother, Jem’s, home, was the victim of emotional abuse by his father. Jem’s (Philip Alford) innocence also is shattered by what he witnesses at Robinson’s trial.
Chances of winning at trial: 2 (Slim and None)
- 12 Angry Men, (1957), starring Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Ed Begley and E. G. Marshall.
In a line from the movie trailer, “On the point of that knife, a man’s life is at stake.”
When the jury began its deliberations, it looked like an open-and-shut case of murder. Then, the baggage that many people carry around with them – prejudice and preconceived notions – begins to shape the outcome.
Chances of winning: Excellent, if Henry Fonda is on the deliberating panel.
- Runaway Jury (2003), starring John Cusack, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman and Rachel Weisz.
“Trials are too important to be left up to juries,” said Gene Hackman (as Rankin Fitch, a jury consultant), as he schemes to rig the trial’s outcome through bribes and blackmail.
A failed day trader guns down former co-workers at a stock brokerage firm. Attorney Wendell Rohr (Dustin Hoffman) takes the weapon’s manufacturer to court on the grounds of gross negligence.
Thru blackmail and bribery, Fitch tries to handpick a jury that will appeal to the gun lobby. On the inside, however, juror Nicholas Easter (played by John Cusack) is working with his girlfriend Marlee (Rachel Weisz), who is on the outside, to score a win.
Chances of winning: Well, to be bribed or blackmailed, you have to have a life. As I have neither, the outcome is up in the air.
- And Justice For All, (1979), starring Al Pacino, Jack Warden and John Forsythe.
An ethical lawyer (Al Pacino as Arthur Kirkland) is forced to defend a corrupt judge (John Forsythe as Judge Henry T. Fleming) in a rape trial. This same judge wrongly sentenced Pacino’s client, who was innocent, on a technicality. Pacino had thrown a punch at the judge, and might be disbarred unless he takes on this case, even though he knows the judge is guilty.
Chances of winning: I’d throw myself on the mercy of the court, rather than get involved in this quagmire.
I rest my case. Hollywood ending: 4. Justice: None.
What was your favorite courtroom drama on film?
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Photo of Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) and Tom Robinson (Brock Peters) in To Kill A Mockingbird
Movie trailer for To Kill A Mockingbird
Movie trailer for 12 Angry Men
Movie trailer for Runaway Jury
Movie trailer for And Justice For All