A Time to Kill (1996) Poster

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Pretty Strong.
tfrizzell6 July 2002
A truly tense film that takes place in present-day Mississippi. A young African-American girl has been raped by two backwoods white men. Her father (Samuel L. Jackson) takes the law into his own hands and kills the two. Now the small town becomes a hot-bed of controversy as a murder trial starts that gets national attention. There is the defense attorney (Matthew McConaughey) and his bright-eyed assistant (Sandra Bullock) against prosecutor supreme Kevin Spacey. A really solid film that works because of a screenplay that pulls no punches and revolutionary direction by Joel Schumacher. A great ensemble cast all excel here and the film captures a place that has turned into a media circus very well. A film that you will watch with clenched fists. An intense experience. 4 stars out of 5.
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I was surprised this movie was this good after reading the book.
lspaiser30 August 2000
I was very much drawn into the book, and thought that it would be hard to get the same feeling out in a movie.

At the beginning I thought I was right. From the beginning I was thinking "they left out a whole mess of details." I was irritated that they did not develop the characters better like in the book.

But by the 3rd quarter of the movie this was the last thought in my mind. And by the end I understood that the screenwriter had very skillfully budgeted his (limited) screen time for the most important parts of the movie, where it is well spent.

I think the acting of the principals was very good, and I found especially for Sandra Bullock as Ellen Roark - who was the most believable character. Although the rest of the acting was very good, I felt she was the most believable.

Which raises the main weakness of the movie, as good as it was, having read the book, I could not help being reminded that most of the characters were in fact, actors in a movie. Except for Ms. Bullock, there was a bit of woodeness to the "folk" in this small southern town. Also the plot is a bit contrived (but true to the novel). Most important is that (for me) it worked. I was moved. Its a very good movie.
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..most people missed the point the movie is not present-day..
fimimix1 May 2006
I had to stop reading the commentaries, because some people thought they were attorneys and rambled-on about injustice. My Friends, in the era this film is about, none of the story would be unusual. There are prejudices much worse even now - I was amazed that one person actually compared this wonderful film to "Crash": give the world a break!! If "Crash"...Ugh!...proved anything, is was to reassure EVERYONE racism is still America's cancer.

I am from Biloxi, Mississippi - along the Gulf Coast. That city has always been a melting-pot, so many different races live together. In my youth, it was Czechs and other European races. Today, can you believe, it is Vietnamese ! The city has also always been a tourist-area, and always had some form of gambling before it became The Las Vegas of the South - perhaps that has tempered the people there from the state's interior's citizens. Canton - during the '60s - would have been just as it is portrayed in this film.

Because of the many TV-courtroom sitcoms, etc., today's population would wonder why there was no strongly-worded assurance the district attorney planned "to appeal". What? We are not talking about modern-day justice in this film - Shamefully, this is Mississippi at its worst, and I know about that. We didn't have this kind of racism in Biloxi then, perhaps because African-Americans "stayed in their place", a shameful statement if there ever were one. All the foreigners and citizens of other states who are not aware of those days - how can you comment on the film, except to give a critique ? Like many of the people who wrote commentaries, I can watch this film once-a-month. ALL of the cast gave a superb performance; the story did not drag; the places that were filmed were true-to-life; to some folk's surprise, there ARE people who live in the state who do not speak like idiots: people think I'm English!; Mathew Mc was astounding and Sandra Bullock's performance was exactly as it should have been, as an activist "little rich girl"; Southern gave a true performance of a alcoholic lawyer; Sam Jackson was masterful and expressed the difference in being "white" and "black"; Kevin Stacy's portrayal of a Southern lawyer with all the connections, right on; I can think of no one who wasn't brilliantly cast.

Missed by many people who made comments, this film is a statement that today we are brutally MEAN to one another: "Crash" re-states this fact, although it is not nearly as poetic. Do I own this film? You betcha!! I'll most likely have to buy another, and it will be money well-spent. Grishom knows how to get our attention, and "A Time to Kill" clearly demonstrates all who were involved in its making were determined to keep his story pure. Wake-up, People - many parts of our world are not pretty today......
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Very well done
Clever Jones17 April 2001
I'm not sure why I didn't see this film when it came out, but I watched it for the first time last week and was blown away. "A time to kill" is not only very well done, but it shows the way racism is dealt with in an intertesting way. Every character is not only well developed, but the actors playing them make it totally believable.

Kevin Spacey and Samuel L. Jackson, who remain two of the finest American actors are definetly one of the best parts of the film. I'm not really sure how this film was received when it was released, but I consider it to be one of the most well done films I've seen recently.
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The best movie I had seen in ten years! One of the ten best I've ever seen!
Gwendylan8 October 2006
This movie dealt with such a deplorable subject.. such a sickening act, without so much as one single gratuitously violent scene in the whole perfectly realised masterpiece.

It's a chilling, thought-provoking, hard-hitting piece that's taut, absorbing, and impeccably well-paced.

There are jaw-dropping performances by numerous top-flight actors here, not a-one letting the ball drop even once. Not one actor's time or talents were wasted in this extremely well thought-out project.. not one actor wasted a cent of the money we paid to see it.

Matthew McConaughey's "Jake Brigance" was an incredibly lucky shot of an acting debut that he took and ran with like the wind, turning in an amazing, heart-stopping, truly star-making performance, which may prove to be the crowning achievement of his entire career when all is said and done.. It will be a treacherous climb to try and top it, certainly.

Class act Donald Sutherland is superbly cast in a quiet, and profound role, as "Jake"'s, {now no longer practicing}, professor, a perfect fit, this role, for a man of such rare eloquence~ There is a sizzling sub-story going on between "Jake", a devoted family man, and Sandra Bullock's character that could not have been tighter, steamier, nor more well written and played out.

I recommend this movie to anyone who believes in justice, who has a child, or only knows one.

You want cheap, tawdry, sleazy, violent 'entertainment'? There's not one thing here for you~

Killing cannot be considered "right" by any means; but sometimes it's just not as simple as "THOU SHALT NOT KILL".

So many of us say, "I would kill for my children, {or other loved one's}!".. but would we? ..Would we be in the "right"?
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An entertaining spectacle with a nice comment on justice
The_Void22 May 2005
Courtroom dramas are well known for providing thrilling films, and that is exactly what 'A Time to Kill' thrives on; entertainment value. It is clear that the film, in spite of having some very potent themes, puts most of it's focus on being entertaining and it's actually not a bad film for it. Sometimes, films that want to be entertaining and have themes fall down because they're too entertaining and the themes get left by the wayside; but A Time to Kill puts its cards on the table from the start, and it's always clear what this film wants to do with itself. The plot follows a man who, after his daughter is raped and almost murdered, decides to take the law into his own hands. However, this man is also a black man living in a white supremacy state, and so the film injects a racism theme into it's plot, which is always going to mean that it will have some sort of social commentary within it. However, that isn't the most interesting comment that the film wants to make; as that plaudit falls to the idea of justice, and exactly what justice is.

The film, based on a novel by crime writer John Grisham, presents an impossible situation to the viewer and central characters; what do you do when justice will prevail whatever the verdict? The viewer and the characters must then make a choice between the law and general morality, and it is there where the film draws it's most interesting plot point from. While, as mentioned, it's always clear that this movie is meant to entertain you; it's always nice to be given something to think about as well. A Time to Kill benefits immensely from an absolutely fabulous cast, which includes the likes of Samuel L. Jackson, Sandra Bullock, Kevin Spacey, Kiefer Sutherland, his father Donald Sutherland, Ashley Judd, Chris Cooper and more, all of which are lead by Matthew McConaughey. It is the lead that most lets the film down, as although McConaughey can definitely act, he's not quite charismatic enough to deliver a lead performance in front of that cast. Still, the movie is definitely very decent and although you probably wont hurt your brain watching it, it will entertain you.
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A very taut racial thriller !
tmpj13 August 2010
This one had me sitting on the edge of my seat. The 90s weren't as polite as the late 50s/ early 60s when we were riveted by "To Kill a Mockingbird", a book and film that author John Grisham credits as an influence to this story. Two "Good Ol Boy" racists go on a red-neck spree, disrespecting all things Black...men, women, and children. Their beer guzzling binge culminates in the rape and near murder of a 10 year old black girl. Samuel L Jackson plays her father...and he goes out for revenge, killing the two miscreants and seriously wounding a deputy sheriff in the process. The film there-after revolves around the very basic points : A. Can a Black man receive a fair trial even in the so-called "New South" after killing two white men...even though their crime was and is considered reprehensible by every decent human being? And B: Will the Black man receive competent legal representation and receive justice irrespective of his "vigilante" action which appears to many to be justified? What will be the fallout? Matt McConaughey's performance as the lawyer is slightly reminiscent of Gregory Peck in "Mockingbird". He has a moralistic reverence for the law, and endures the taunts of the townsfolk and his other encumbrances with fortitude. Sandra Bullock is convincing as the law student who wants to chime in and lend a hand for the experience. Don and Keifer Sutherland deliver solid support...the elder being a dis-barred lawyer who is ready with advice, the younger playing a racist Klansman out to get revenge for the two dead rednecks. The atmosphere hinges on the explosive as the racial tension builds, and it is a movie that is worth watching with a message worth pondering and remembering. See the film.
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Here's a tough revenge film that tells it like it is.
FISHCAKE16 October 1999
Warning: Spoilers
This tough filming of Grisham's novel about a black man's revenge for the brutal rape of his daughter by whites might lead one to some maxims for guidance of anyone in such a situation. Don't wait for the law to help when you know it won't. But, if you act on your own, be prepared for the worst. Don't always assume that someone different is automatically your enemy. That's racist mentality no matter from which end of the color spectrum you are observing. There are probably others one might deduce. This is a powerful and thought provoking film, well acted and produced. It puts the KKK in a true perspective as a bunch of neo-nazi thugs, and, mirabile dictu, there are no "obligatory sex scenes", at least not in the version I saw. My only cavil is the "happy" ending. It seems unlikely in the given environment, but then again maybe not.
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Take A TIME TO WATCH this movie !!
bibi-31 January 1999
One of the best dramas I've seen.

Great performances from Samuel Jackson, Sandra Bullock and Matthew McConaughey.

I've seen this movie four times and each time I see it, his closing speech has made me cry loudly.

I highly recommend it. You won't regret it.
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Glossy legal thriller with a rotten core
bs3dc17 March 2008
Warning: Spoilers
"A Time To Kill" is based on the John Grisham novel - in Mississippi two drunken rednecks brutally rape and attempt to murder a young black girl. Her father, Carl Lee Hailey (Samuel L. Jackson) in his grief and anger shoots both men as they enter the courthouse for their pre-trial hearing and faces a trial that could lead to his execution if he is found guilty of their murder. An ambitious young lawyer, Jake Tyler Brigance (Matthew McConaughey) takes on his defence no matter what the cost to his family and friends who are under threat from the Klu Klux Klan.

The problem with the central premise is that Carl Lee Hailey guns down the two men before their trial so we don't know for certain they are going to get away with their terrible crime - and with the evidence against them it would be a racist jury indeed who found them innocent. This takes away a lot of the empathy for his plight as he clearly premeditates the killing and he is prepared to leave his family destitute if he receives life imprisonment or the death penalty. The only defence really offered is that it is racist to consider his actions unjustified, even though he manages to badly wound a police officer (leading to the amputation of his leg) - clearly an accident, but firing guns in crowded rooms is bound to cause that kind of mishap. The direction and editing do not help, with pointless scenes such as those that set to prove that Lee Hailey killed the men - a fact that wasn't in doubt. The handling of the whole racism issue is clumsily handled, as we are frequently told that the area is racist and yet they elected a black sheriff.

Brigance is hardly a sympathetic character either, spending the evening before the start of the biggest trial of his career getting drunk and flirting with one of his helpers while his wife is out of town. The cast of the film is hard to fault, with even minor roles portrayed by famous artists such as Sandra Bullock, Kevin Spacey, Donald and Kiefer Sutherland and Patrick McGoohan. This tends to be a distraction as very few of the supporting cast have much to do. There is a strong script and fine acting all round, though McConaughey in his breakthrough role is somewhat overshadowed by the rest of the starry cast. The script is strong, in particular the closing speech of the trial is very powerful as it describes in greater detail the full horror of the actions of the murdered men. However the script in the main is heavily biased towards a very specific agenda and is highly manipulative.

Overall the film left a bad taste in my mouth when the credits rolled as the message it seemed to be delivering was that it is okay to be a vigilante and anyone who thinks Lee Hailey deserved punishment for his actions is a racist. While I felt sorry for him and did not think he deserved the death penalty, allowing him to get away scot-free was going too far in my opinion. Not having read the novel I am unable to say where exactly the fault lies, but the cast despite their best efforts are unable to raise the material beyond its limitations.
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Outstanding actors, timeless story, a must-see!
madricci30 October 2006
For me this is actually one of the best movies I've ever seen, not only 'cause of the great performances of all main- and supporting actors, but most of it all because of the message and the feelings it gave me while I was watching it and even still gives me. People are watching movies for the same reason they listen to music or look at paintings, they wanna feel. We all have to come along with people of different colors, nationalities and whatever. The best and most peaceful way to do that, like it's mentioned in the movie, is to listen to our hearts, which for me is the message that the director and screenplay-writer wanted to bring along. I hope I got the message, on any account it made me cry several times which is a thing not many movies have achieved yet. For me as a German who dealt a lot with the history of his own country and also a little with the history of the Ku-Klux-Clan, it was good to see that those people are shown as just what they are: A bunch of mind-sick, dumb and dangerous Nazis. The whole situation in the movie in my opinion stands at the appropriate rate to reality of that time in the south of the United States,what makes it very authentic and traceable. The reason I call it a timeless story although it's certainly set in a special time is that everyone is almost forced to think, at least subconsciously, about the way he or she is dealing with those problems of difference that are always gonna exist. I highly recommend this movie but I will not say enjoy or have fun 'cause you won't find these things in "A time to kill". I also love the title 'cause when you think about it, everyone can become a murderer in the right circumstances. But what you're gonna find is a captivating story, acting on its highest level and strong emotions.
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Well-made, well-acted, but deeply flawed
Loose-Cannon18 March 2006
Warning: Spoilers
There are other reviews here expressing similar views, but I still feel impelled to add my comments. The film is generally well-made from a technical point of view, apart from possibly being too long. The acting is mostly very good, although Kevin Spacey isn't given much space to explain his character's motivation (apparently ambition rather than racism), and Sandra Bullock's only function seems to be as eye candy, which she admittedly manages very well.

At a fundamental level the film's heart is in the right place in being opposed to racism, and I get the impression that it tried to set out to be some kind of definitive treatment of racism, perhaps why so many famous names agreed to be in it. However, it seems the writers bit off far more than they could chew (I haven't read the book, so I don't know how much of that is down to Grisham). The biggest problem, as many others have said, is that it ends up advocating vigilante justice. Aside from the fact that I don't agree with that position, I don't think that such a view actually helps the anti-racist cause at all - it's more likely to be applied to acquit white defendants who kill black victims. At the end the prosecutor invites the jury (and the audience) to imagine that the raped girl was white - but follow that through and imagine the defendant to be a white man who murdered black rapists ... in the end the message seems to be that it's OK to kill someone as long as you hate them enough. It's also convenient that the man killed was presented as totally evil and his guilt was in no doubt, which removes any of the moral ambiguity likely in a real case.

Samuel L Jackson gives an excellent performance, but unfortunately this also undermines the plot - he comes across as someone with considerable integrity, but it's hard to believe that he would be willing to hide behind an insanity plea (and indeed he doesn't, when push comes to shove). We're presumably supposed to think that it's because he faces the death penalty, but in fact at one point he's offered a plea of manslaughter, although if you blink you might miss it. Why not take it, given that he must know his chances of acquittal are slim? Or if he wants to make a stand in court, why plead insanity?

There are less serious flaws too. The medical experts, on whose testimony the case supposedly rests, are jokes - both are discredited for highly implausible reasons, and neither of them offers any real psychiatric diagnosis. The message seems to be that expert witnesses will say whatever they're asked to say, and shouldn't be believed. The fact that the injured policeman supports Jackson is moderately plausible, but still a bit convenient (and what if he had died?) I find it hard to believe that the KKK would march down the street in broad daylight. Other apparently serious crimes (riot, arson, kidnapping, attempted murder) go by without any visible attempt to detect or prosecute them. And the scene where the dog comes bounding back is ludicrous.

My final reaction is to be left feeling rather dirty - as though I must be a racist because I disagree with the resolution. It may be that the film intended to explore different viewpoints and leave the audience to decide, but if so they seem to have forgotten it by the time they got to the end. The film did make me think about my views, read what other people thought here and add my own opinion, so at some level maybe it succeeded - but I worry that it may have re-inforced highly illiberal views in some people, which I hope is the opposite of what it intended.

Final thought - try watching Law and Order, it covers issues like this with much more depth in about 38 minutes of screen time!
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A time to thrill!
csauer9 August 2006
Who in this movie does'nt play there part perfectly? The judge looks like a judge, a hanging judge at that. The sheriff is not a sugar coated law man, rather a tough Mississippi fair law man who knows what to do realistically. All the actors are cast in the only part they could be. THEN when the intensity of the movie gets to the boiling point who comes in to give us a break? You ALL know who. There she is to give us a break, and a laugh as Sandra swoops in on us. She is by far and away the most delightful actress I have ever seen. Even after she is beaten up and in a hospital bed she gives us a couple of chuckles. She has a delivery second to none. Every one, every one plays their role perfectly. Great movie, easy to follow, great story line, great all the way around. Do I like it? Yea about fifty times viewed like it.
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Contrived and heavy-handed
segacs26 August 2007
Warning: Spoilers
A Time To Kill is based on John Grisham's first novel, the one he wrote before he was famous, and the one that didn't skyrocket him to fame. (That would be accomplished by "The Firm"). That's why this movie didn't get made until much later, after Grisham was off churning out meaningless books with the movie dollar signs fresh in his head. Unlike most of those, this book was actually about something. It had meat, it had weight, and it had heart.

But it also had a fatal flaw, and this fatal flaw gets translated into the movie. Namely, "A Time To Kill" sets you up.

Here we have a black man (Jackson), on trial for the murder of two white men who brutally raped and tortured his 10-year-old daughter. We have an underdog lawyer (McConaughey) battling the big bad system to save his client. And oh, by the way, the whole thing is set against the backdrop of racism in Mississippi, complete with hooded KKK men burning crosses.

In other words, we're supposed to sympathize with Carl Lee Hailey. We're supposed to believe that a father who loves his daughter is justified in killing the men who raped her. We're supposed to feel the injustice of a system where a racist all-white jury could judge a black man who was just trying to avenge a brutal crime. We're supposed feel like we're standing alongside the people chanting "Free Carl Lee".

But the racism issue is a smokescreen, and the whole thing is contrived. Carl Lee Hailey was a vigilante. Yes, there were mitigating circumstances for what he did, but the fact remains that he wasn't innocent. This would have been true no matter what his skin colour, or the skin colour of the assailants of his daughter, the judge, the jury, or anyone else.

And what's so heavy-handed about this film is that it paints anyone who believes Carl Lee should have been convicted is a racist. The message seems to be that if you believe that the law shouldn't be taken into people's own hands, then you might as well be burning crosses on a lawn somewhere wearing a hood.

This isn't the first time a heavy dose of sentimentalism is inserted into a story like this, and it won't be the last. As a movie, A Time To Kill stays pretty faithful to the book, and the acting isn't half bad. But it played the hand it had been dealt, really. Even a good cast can't elevate bad source material.
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Racism Is Bad -- But Only Mean Rednecks Must Pay
Dan1863Sickles19 January 2010
The problem I have with this movie is not that a black father loses his cool and shoots two white men who raped his daughter. What bothers me is the idea that "racism" -- a complex reality involving a host of different cultural, economic, and political problems -- can be summed up as "mean rednecks who drive pickup trucks attacking black children at random." This kind of oversimplification doesn't really solve anyone's problems, black or white. But liberal Hollywood has been employing this approach ever since TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. And it's not hard to see why. Because if racism is simply a matter of the poorest, most ignorant whites committing open acts of violence, then the rich whites who run the film industry, and the legal profession, and the media, are inherently on the right side of the issue. And every other issue, too.

In the end, it's not really about racial justice, it's about class prejudice and liberal hypocrisy. And this is not just a southern problem.

For example, some years ago, there was a deplorable racial murder in Bensonhurst, an Italian section of Brooklyn. And famed "liberal" columnist Anna Quindlen (who is half Italian) wrote a very frosty column, essentially dismissing the entire neighborhood (the entire class) as ignorant Goombahs who should all be in jail. Evidently when you go to college and move to Manhattan you become one of the good guys. And it doesn't matter whether you send your kids to exclusive private schools and associate only with affluent whites -- at least you don't hunt black children from pickup trucks or club people with baseball bats. Because that's racism, and racism is bad.

But class privilege, self-congratulation and hypocrisy are okay.
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back to the Middle Ages
xquenda28 June 2005
This is one of the worst films I have ever seen! It is basically a propaganda for blood vengeance and also, in the dialogs, for death penalty. Maybe it is a cultural reason that I, as a European, am a little sensitive about those topics and felt totally disgusted. But the film also has not much to tell beyond these central points. With a big portion of emotionalism it merely tries to cover its plot's weakness and, even more, to capture its viewers with its opinion. The obvious intention is to make the audience heartily agreeing with the offered judgment. This is dangerous, it is the way propaganda works. Could the action be seen as a kind of justified manslaughter? No! It was in the European Middle Ages when vengeance as an accepted form of criminal punishment was abolished. And this should not be changed! I'd like to advise everyone to watch this film again and, as an experiment, to replace the raped daughter with a raped 70-year-old mother. I doubt that shooting the rapist will be equally approved. Anyway, the film has to get at least 1 out of 10, maybe for the musical score.
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A Movie That Can't Make Up Its Mind
astorian12 July 2002
John Grisham and Joel Schumacher are two men who've never much cared whether the stories they tell make sense, and it shows.

We're supposed to believe that a small Mississippi town is BOTH progressive and liberal enough to elect a black sheriff AND so racist that a black crime victim can never get justice. ANybody else see a contradiction here?

Samuel L. Jackson's character claims the right to kill the men who attacked his daughter, because he insists black people can't get justice from a white jury. But later, a white jury acquits him... which proves he was WRONG, which means his action was NOT justified!

Then there's the Kevin Spacey character, who makes no sense at all. Even in the Deep South, there is NO WAY that prosecuting a man for avenging the rape of his daughter could be a good career move. An ambitious politician would steer clear of such a case. He'd NEVER embrace it as a stepping stone to higher office.

Grisham and Schumacher don't seem to grasp that this isn't 1890 any more.
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Horrible endorsement of violence!!!
KDCarson18 July 2004
Apparently it's okay for black people to shoot whites if they are angry. That's the message of this movie, plain and simple. It's a horrible endorsement of violence and a complete disregard for for the rights of individuals. The two men who were shot had not even been to trial yet. And why did Samuel L. Jackson's character go off half cocked? Because he visits Matthew McConaughey's character who tells him the men will get off. All of this before the trial even happens!!! I can tell you that I live in the south and we have respect for law and justice in this part of the country. John Grisham is indulging in the worst perceptions of the south and and bigotry against southern people.
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Could have been much better.....
yddsp@aol.com6 November 2007
The storyline is compelling, the acting; very good, the direction; impressive, the only problem I have with this film is in the character of Sandra Bullock's, Ellen Roark. Her part was pathetically overwritten. If this was intentional to secure the interests of Ms. Bullock, then this is the movie's failing. I have nothing against Ms. Bullock as an actor, I have enjoyed her performances in numerous roles, however this happens to not be one of them. She is almost a comic book caricature of herself and it detracts from the impact of the story immensely. She professes to be a student of law, yet at many twists and turns she appears to be more knowledgeable of the law than her counterpart, the lead counselor for the defense (Matthew McConaughey), a bona fide licensed, practicing attorney. She also appears to possess a degree in medicine based on a scene where a simple "band aid" would seem counter-indicative considering the nature, source and force of the injury she simply 'dresses'.

The closing argument (summation scene) is very emotional and should win this movie critical acclaim based on that merit alone, although this is somewhat jaded by some of the unrealistic, outlandish events which precede it and therefore merely lend toward relegating this film to cinematic mediocrity. It appears to be a bit melodramatic in some places and Donald Sutherland's role is weak, underdeveloped and unimpressive (pity because I really like Mr. Sutherland as an actor). All in all, it's definitely worth the watch for the compelling storyline, if nothing else, about racial injustice, but if you happen to miss it, you won't regret too much. Matthew McConaughey is excellent in his role as the inexperienced, though passionate, lead defense attorney and deserves all due praise.
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Repulsive and dangerous
zogz5424 February 2007
This is a truly repellent film, and one that is all too representative of the deeply pernicious influence that John Grisham has wielded over cultural life in America. It attempts to paper over its rabidly right-wing approach to justice with the usual flabby soft-liberal posturings over race. Ironically, however, its racial attitudes are almost as objectionable as its unabashed endorsement of vigilante violence; here, patronising smugness is taken to new lows. This film is in the not-so-proud Hollywood tradition of stories about heroic white men riding to the rescue of noble but ineffectual black men, and seldom has this tradition been affirmed as explicitly as it is here. In the form of representatives of the N.A.A.C.P., black people do indeed offer their support to Jackson's character, but this is rejected in favour of Matthew McConaughey's bland young lawyer. In place of the political clout and legal expertise the N.A.A.C.P. are able to supply, Carl Lee Hailey (Jackson) instead sticks to the inexperienced idealism of the crusading Caucasian protagonist. Know your place, black folks! Don't you know there's a dashing, photogenic white hero in the building? Move along now, and leave the rescuing to this poor man's Atticus Finch. Good white people do battle with bad white people, and the only appropriate place for black people in all of this is at the sidelines, looking stoical and dignified.

Another point to make against this odious trash is that the assertion of the individual's right to seek violent retribution is not so different from the basic assumptions of the Ku Klux Klan, the villains of the piece. But such subtleties are hardly the type of stuff that the likes of Grisham and Schumacher can be expected to trifle with. It beggars belief how the former can have had the audacity to accuse Oliver Stone of encouraging violence when that is precisely what this dangerous rubbish does. Films like 'A Time to Kill', which champion personal vengeance, no matter how bloody, contribute to the kind of political climate in which leading politicians can express sympathy with crazed loons who murder judges. Apart from its warped values, the film is shoddily written, lamely paced and atrociously acted, with one of the worst collections of hammy 'Southern' accents ever assembled. The cinematography is nice.
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Racist, exploitative and ridiculous
grayhares27 April 2012
On what planet does this movie take place? Because it certainly isn't earth. Apparently on this planet, all Southerners are sadistic, racist pigs who delight in hurting other people. Also in this universe, it's OK for a black man to kill two white men if he believes they might get off for the crime they committed, and that everyone who tries to get him off is a hero. Anyone who wants him in jail is racist.

Typical extremist liberal schlock with no connection to reality. People who like this movie are the same type of people who think a cop killer like Mumia Abu Jamal should go free, simply because he's black. Don't watch this movie.
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Definitely not to be taken serious...
mordred6915 April 2003
... because the "message" of this movie (and it seems to be made as a message movie) STINKS!!! If you kill somebody (no matter if it is human scumbag or not), you should be punished.

But that's John Grisham. Pretends to be liberal while being rotten to the core. Too sad that truly great actors wasted their talent for that piece of garbage.
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Victim_Of_Fate8 March 2000
Regardless of whether the predominant social message of this film - that vigilante justice is acceptable - is justifiable, I was more insulted by McConaughey's closing statement. In a courtroom drama, the closing statement of the defence attorney is pretty much the crux of the film, and when the issue is as difficult to resolve as this one, the statement is really being delivered to the audience as well as the jury. This basically implies that the audience consider the rape of a white girl to be a more horrific crime than the rape of a black girl. I for one find this very insulting. As for the rest, I found the acting reasonable, with the exception of Sandra Bullock, who seems to be playing her usual bubbly self (doesn't really work in a courtroom drama), but what's the point when the film's message is as poor as this one. It tells you that vigilante justice is fine, and accuses you of racism if you disagree.
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A socially irresponsible film--2 out of 4 stars.
Fred-1466 March 1999
I have not read "A Time to Kill" by John Grisham, and perhaps that would have helped understand the film better. But perhaps not. I hear this is the most faithful Grisham adaption yet, and if that is true, I can see why so many publishers turned down the novel when Grisham introduced it as his first work.

"A Time to Kill" is one of those films that is seriously confused and wants to do too many things at once. It wants to be a suspenseful crowd-pleasing thriller and, at the same time, a film dedicated to exploring certain social and moral questions. Let's face it, those two types of films do not go together in Hollywood, which is why "Dead Man Walking" had to be made independently.

The story involves a young lawyer named Jake (Matthew McConaughy) out to defend a black man named Carl (Samuel L. Jackson) from murdering two hillbillies that brutally raped his young daughter. The day before the rapists' trial, Carl hid in a closet in the courthouse and when the rapists were brought through the building, he charged out and shot both of them dead. To help out with the defense, Jack accepts the help of a former law student (Sandra Bullock), who proves that her role in this film was totally unnecessary, and put in the film only for marketing purposes.

Meanwhile, one of the rapist's kid brother (Kiefer Sutherland) was angered that a black man killed his brother and decided to act out a revenge. All of this leads to a shooting in front of the courthouse, a kidnapping, a brutal beating, and race riot. I'll admit that all of this held my attention greatly throughout the film, in addition to the courtroom scenes. What I later objected to was the film's handling of ethical questions and its use of formulas in the plot.

The main question that the film constantly asks, over and over again, is whether a black man gets a fair trial from a white jury. Sure they can, but that doesn't mean that the man has to be acquitted in order for the trial to be fair. This film, however, doesn't seem to think so. Besides that, there several gaping holes in the plot used for conveniences. For example, there is an unknown character called Mickey Mouse, who is a member of the Klan, and, for reasons unknown, is helping the members of the defense team escape from serious dangers of the other members of the Klan. After Bullock is kidnapped by Sutherland and company, and left for dead in the wilderness, this unknown person comes and saves her---and we NEVER find out who he is and why he is helping out the people he should be terrorizing.

And speaking of the Sutherland character's reign of terror, it's amazing how witless the police and the Bullock character are in stopping him throughout the film. There's a scene when Sutherland becomes a sniper from a building across the street from the courthouse and tries to shoot Jake as he comes out, shooting one of the guards instead. Now you'd think since there are dozens of police around, it would be easy to surround and capture the sniper. No such luck. From what we could see, no one seemed to even care that a sniper was still on the loose. Even after Bullock, was rescued by Mickey Mouse, she never, ever mentioned who her kidnapper was, nor was it even questioned. Why was this? Simple. The Sutherland character was needed throughout the film to add continual suspense, although logically, he should have been out of the picture.

Besides Bullock's character, there another thankless character. He is Jake's assistant played by Oliver Platt. There seems to be one reason for his character to be in the movie--to supply a number of one-liners for the audience. In my opinion, one-liners show a major weakness in "serious" films when used. It demonstrates that the filmmakers are not confident that the story and dialogue alone are enough to keep the audience's attention, and so use them to make the audience laugh to reassure everyone that they are watching an entertaining film.

But enough of the film's many minor problems. What about the film's message here? It is clear that Carl is indeed guilty of murder. We saw how he planned for hours to murder the men who raped his daughter. The lawyers argue that it was temporary insanity, etc that caused him to kill. In desperation, Jake asks the jury to close their eyes as he recounts the rape in detail as part of his closing arguement. After describing everything that took place, he adds on one final line..."The girl is white". We then see members of the jury with tears in their eyes.

In the very next scene, a girl comes out yelling "He's free! He's free!". Wait a minute! Do juries base their verdicts on their emotions or on the facts? Most of all, why weren't there any scenes that showed the jury deliberating and what they were really thinking after their emotions worn off. I'll tell you why. They couldn't show the delibertion because NO JURY could acquit a man of such a crime, no matter how much the defense's closing arguements touched their hearts. What is the message? That someone is justified in killing if it is a form of revenge for a previous crime done to them?

This film should have had the courage to say that murder is NOT OK in this situation, because in reality, there would not be an acquittal. But since dollars were at stake, the filmmakers were more concerned about sparing the audiences' feelings than they were about presenting a responsible message. If people start killing as a form of revenge, the makers of this film should be held responsible. What a socially irresponsible film this is!
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One of the best thrillers of all time.
daveburnett-5825612 May 2017
This film is full of main screen actors, and features some very powerful roles based from the book. Samuel L Jackson is superb along with a very strong performance from Mathew McConaughey. The film keeps you guessing and is a definite must for anyone looking for a great thriller. One of my all time favourites.
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