Criminal Law (1988)

R  |   |  Crime, Thriller  |  28 April 1989 (USA)
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Reviews: 21 user | 18 critic

Oldman plays a lawyer who defends a killer, but, soon after he wins he finds out that the killer is guilty.



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Ben Chase
Sean McCann ...
Karen Woolridge ...
Claudia Curwen (as Karen Wooldridge)
Ali Giron ...
Rob Roy ...
Terrence Labrosse ...
Judge (as Terrence La Brosse)
Barbara Jones ...
Sandra Massina (as Barbara Ann Jones)
Jeannie Walker ...


A rising young attorney successfully defends a man accused of murder, only to have the same type of murder then happen again. Right away the previously defended man hires the attorney again, and although the attorney is quite certain that he is the killer, he agrees to again defend him... much to the consternation of his friends. However, he explains that by being his attorney he will be better able to catch the man in a mistake... and on this the rest of the film develops, with the killer playing a cat and mouse game with the attorney until, at last, they both must recognize that they are not all that different. Written by BOB STEBBINS <>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


"Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster." - Nietzsche. See more »


Crime | Thriller


R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:





Release Date:

28 April 1989 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Der Frauenmörder  »

Filming Locations:


Box Office


$9,974,446 (USA)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


The musical score contains a sample from "The Rhythm of the Heat" by Peter Gabriel. See more »


Fuel pumps display amounts in liters even though the location is supposed to be in Massachusetts. See more »


Martin Thiel: I love the rain... it washes everything away... makes it clean.
See more »


Referenced in Karla (2006) See more »

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User Reviews

The imperfections of law examined
29 December 2007 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

In 1988's Criminal Law, Gary Oldman plays Ben Chase, an attorney who defends a man, Martin Thiel (Kevin Bacon) accused of a particularly vicious murder. With clever lawyering, he gets Thiel off, only to realize shortly afterward that Thiel is guilty and out there killing again. This time, though, Thiel is playing a mind game with Chase and wants to retain him when suspicion falls on him for a second murder that Ben knows he committed. Ben wants to right the wrong of the first "not guilty" plea so he agrees to work as Thiel's attorney, hoping for inside information that will convict the man.

This is very interesting premise, though the various themes get lost in an uneven script that tries to do too much. The focus actually becomes the performances of Oldman and Bacon - Oldman giving a very emotional performance and Bacon a very cold one. Posts here have pronounced Oldman as hammy - hammy to me is when a performance is bigger than the emotions underneath so that the performance seems phony. Here, the character of Ben seemed to be truly overwrought, and the emotions came from a real place. Oldman at any rate is an interesting actor, and this material in the hands of a lesser one would have made it dismissible. As it is, the film survives on the basis of the work of the two actors.

Honing in on one theme rather than several would have helped "Criminal Law." It tries to tackle psychosis, legal technicalities, the law versus justice, attorney-client privilege, mystery and romance in one script. When it comes out of the Mixmaster, it's all pretty vague.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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