... And Justice for All (1979) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

You've seen the highlight clips from this movie a hundred times. Al Pacino shouts at the judge, "I'm out of order? You're out of order. You're out of order. This whole trial is out of order."

This is not exactly a subtle, measured attack on lawyers and the legal system. It is the sensationalistic, "Hollywood confidential" approach. Pacino plays a rumpled, but honest and talented lawyer. He's essentially the Lieutenant Columbo of lawyers. And he is gradually finding that the system is not just partially corrupt, but corrupt through and through:

1. He has one client who has been in jail for a year and a half, and the guy was just stopped for a bad taillight. The police confused him with another guy with the same name, and before they could let him out, he had been framed for a crime in prison. Pacino has evidence to exonerate him, but the evidence is thrown out on a legal technicality by an arrogant by-the-book judge. (John Forsythe). While the man languishes in prison, he snaps from the beatings and rapes, and finally tries to make a break for it, only to be shot down by SWAT forces before Pacino can talk him out.

2. Pacino is defending another haarmless petty criminal, and has set up the right argument top get him probabtion and a job. But Pacino has to work on a major case, so he asks a colleague to handle the routine confirmation hearing. The colleague drinks through lunch, misses an important point, and the guy is thrown in jail. The defenfdant is a sensitive transvestite, and hangs himself in his first night in jail, before Pacino can rectify the errors.

3. The people investigating legal abuses are either naive, investigating the wrong guys (asking if a guy with a genetic speech defect is drunk on the job), or in league with the ones who are really corrupted.

4. Pacino's partner is going crazy because his brilliant defense caused a killer to go free and kill two children.

5. In the midst of this chaos, Pacino is asked to defend the very judge who has kept the innocent man in jail for a year and a half. (It looks good politically that Al would defend him, because Pacino once hit the guy. The judge figures he has the spin just right for the press. No reason for a lawyer to defend a man he hates unless that man is innocent, right? (SPOILER COMING) Well, Pacino does believe he's innocent of the brutal rape, until one of his inside contacts gives him irrefutable proof that the judge did it, and that all the exculpatory evidence is bogus. Which loops us back to Pacino's famous speech in which he says to the jury, "I have a great case, but I kept asking myself why this woman would lie, and I finally realized - she didn't. My client is guilty. This man is slime, and should go to fucking jail right now and stay there forever."

I guess every lawyer has wanted to do that once in a while, but not many would throw their career away by doing so. (Doing so provokes more or less instant disbarment)

Some people have argued that the film is a satire. I suppose that is possible, but it's definitely not very funny, and it's tragic to the point of pathos, so you'll have to be a person who enjoys those rare non-funny satires in order to really appreciate it. Of course, to me, nothing is funnier than a guy who hangs himself, except maybe another guy who is slain after being brutally raped and beaten, or a judge who gets away with beating and raping a woman, so I thought it was some side-splitting chuckles.


No live nudity, but Al looks at nude pictures of Allisha Council while he gets the true story on the judge.
Seriously, to me it's just a rant - like listening to a two hour monologue on how the system stinks, as delivered by a fanatic who can't see the many sides to the story. And the background music is hilariously inappropriate. I'm not kidding when I say it sounds like the music from "Shaft". At the beginning, I kept wondering if I put the wrong DVD in the player.

Talk about inconsistent tone. Moments of slapstick, followed by high level tragedy, followed by pimp music.

The film had aspirations of greatness, but is only somewhat above average, and wouldn't be that good except for Pacino's personal charisma. Al does a great job in this film at what he's best at - making speeches and showing moral outrage. If not for him, however, the film would be a big ugly cartoon with no shadings of gray, only pure black and pure white. Whether it was meant as satire or not, it ends up playing like an exaggerated black comedy, but with a very heavy hand, and without the humor.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 1.85 to 1, and a 4:3 fullscreen version.

  • Full-length director commentary

  • No other significant features.

Various facts:

This was written by Baltimore's #1 film citizen, Barry Levinson (normally known for his complex, understated, and true-to-life characterizations), and takes place in Baltimore. It was directed by Norman Jewison.

It was a great comeback film for Al Pacino, who had been off the screens for two years, and whose previous picture, Bobby Deerfield, had been a disappointment. Pacino was originally going to turn it down because he was committed to "Born on the Fourth of July", but "July" cratered, and he did this instead. ("July" was finally made ten years later with Tom Cruise)

Most of the extras in the cast were real-life local citizens and courthouse personnel.

The Critics Vote ...

  • Berardinelli 3.5/4

  • It was nominated for two Oscars. Pacino as best actor, and Levinson, et al, for best screenplay.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 6.7,
  • With their dollars ... it wasn't a smash, hit, but it took in $23 million domestic, which was a robust total in 1979, and easily defrayed the production's six million dollar cost.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C+. Good production values and Al Pacino cover up a lame script that is trapped somewhere between satire and melodrama.

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