Nicholas Van Orton is a very wealthy San Francisco banker, but he is an absolute loner, even spending his birthday alone. In the year of his 48th birthday (the age his father committed ... See full summary »
Deborah Kara Unger,
When an altar boy, Aaron Stampler, is accused of murdering a priest, the media-friendly, arrogant lawyer Martin Vail takes the case (and the headlines). However he discovers that the boy is not all he seems and that there may have been a third person in the room when the priest was murdered. However his plea is fixed and he must work the case to turn things back to his advantage.
Years ago, the UK did a day where the Government subsidised cinemas to offer all tickets for £1. On that day I had nothing I wanted to see but I thought (like thousands other) that a saving of £3 (at the time) was too good to miss, so I went to see this film despite my caution when it comes to courtroom thrillers. The plot here is so very full of holes that it is a wonder that the whole film doesn't fall into itself, however it just about manages to succeed by being quite clever and significantly different from the usual courtroom stuff (although it does still have the same faults as the rest of the genre).
The film is a lot darker than many courtroom thrillers; first of all, Vail is not a sympathetic character - he is arrogant and conceited, and the film never really offers him redemption at any point. Likewise the climax of the film is not the usual genre twist - or rather, it is, but not in the usual way. The film's main weakness however is that it is at least 20 minutes too long. The revelations about Roy happen but then are forgotten for about 10 minutes and then raised again before being put aside again. I really can't even understand why the film feels so padded at points in the middle when really that was when the Roy thing kicks in and the film should have stepped up a gear in a flash. That it doesn't is a problem, but not an insurmountable one, as it does slowly get faster towards a downbeat conclusion that is enjoyably different from the usual Perry Mason style twist (although it is a twist).
I'm by no means a Richard Gere fan, but he does a very good job here. He never wants to be a good guy here and he plays it well. However the film is driven by a great performance from Norton, marking himself out as one to watch in coming years. His dual roles are great and the film would have failed if he hadn't been able to carry it off. The support cast is surprisingly deep with people who were either well-known at the time or became famous later. When a cast includes Mahoney, McDormand, Woodard, Linney, Seda, and Braugher then it is worth a look - although some of them have very small roles there are no weak links. However it is a credit to Norton that he stands shoulder to shoulder with all of them and is the one that sticks in the mind long after it finishes.
Overall this is an enjoyable courtroom thriller that only struggles in the middle with an inability to really just let rip. It's ironic, but I enjoyed it because it was less showy and so on when compared to others of the genre, but it could have benefited from knowing when to let go sooner. However the cast is top notch and the unlikely plot is held together by a low key Gere and a fantastic central performance(s) from Norton.
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