A Time to Kill is an outstanding courtroom drama, and easily the best adaptation of one of John Grisham’s legal thrillers. Samuel L. Jackson stars as Carl Lee Hailey, a black lumberyard worker in Clanton, Mississippi, whose little girl is brutally raped and beaten by two local rednecks. Convinced that they will not receive justice, Carl Lee takes the law into his own hands, and guns down the rapists in the courthouse. Matthew McConaughey plays Jake Brigance, the young street lawyer who agrees to defend Carl Lee. His competition in the courtroom is Rufus Buckley (Kevin Spacey), the local district attorney, hungry for a big conviction to boost his political career. Jake also faces trouble outside the courtroom. Freddie Cobb (Kiefer Sutherland), the brother of one of the slain rapists, establishes a local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, who begin to terrorize Jake’s friends and family, and the community in general. There is excellent acting throughout a Time To Kill, particularly from Jackson and McConaughey. Sandra Bullock appears as Ellen Roark, a Northern law student who wants to assist Jake with the trial. Her character is perhaps the weakest in the film. (Why would a person with such a strong opinion on the death penalty be so eager to help a man who, in effect, executed two men himself?) She mainly serves as a distraction to Jake, both from his family and the trial. The film moves at a rapid pace, despite it’s two and a half hour running time. It uses many of the standard courtroom cliches, but, surprisingly, they work. (The jury’s dinner scenes, however, go a bit too far, and make the film’s climax slightly unbelievable.) A Time to Kill manages to capture many tensions, (racial, sexual, and criminal), and works very well.
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