This is Al Pacino week. …And Justice for All is currently available on instant Netflix.
WATCH: …And Justice for All (1979) – Rated R
“America’s justice system comes under indictment in director Norman Jewison’s trenchant film starring Al Pacino as upstanding attorney Arthur Kirkland. A hard-line — and tainted — judge (John Forsythe) stands accused of rape, and Kirkland (Al Pacino) has to defend him. Kirkland has a history with the judge, who jailed one of the lawyer’s clients on a technicality. When the judge confesses his guilt, Kirkland faces an ethical and legal quandary.”
“I have a client in jail for a busted tail light and I can’t get him out.”
The above quote sums up much of the movie. Norman Jewison made this stinging indictment of the legal system in 1979 but it plays pretty fresh today. It is much like a Catch-22 for the courts. There are a number of travesties of justice across several cases before Pacino’s oft-quoted Network-style rant.
While it is somewhat heavy-handed, the miscarriages are quite believable. I’m glad the story was about how the legal system is a game instead of how it is slanted liberal or conservative. There are innocent people here who are punished as well as guilty ones that are not punished.
Valerie Curtin and Barry Levinson’s script was nominated for Best Screenplay. It’s gratifying and disconcerting how they are able to keep a somewhat light tone even with all the dreadful things occurring in this film. I mentioned Catch-22 and Network earlier but the film this most reminds me of is George C. Scott’s The Hospital.
Al Pacino is wonderful again in this and was nominated for an Oscar. I’m glad to have a chance to go back and look at some of his early roles this week. His most recent work is simply awful (88 Minutes and Righteous Kill). His histrionics in his early work (Dog Day Afternoon, And Justice for All) comes off as intensity. Later (the aforementioned 88 Minutes and Righteous Kill) it comes off as self-caricature.
There are some scenes that if replaced would have made this a much stronger film (the helicopter sequence, any part of the unconvincing and unnecessary romance). The themes are nice but there are so many individual cases that none of them are given enough depth to make this a drama. I think this and a need to balance out the bleak outcomes is why they went with a more lighthearted tone.
I recommend this film though yesterday’s Dog Day Afternoon is better.
People Watch: Look for a young ‘Coach’, Craig T. Nelson, as Frank Bowers and Method acting coach Lee Strasberg as Kirkland’s grandfather.