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The following FAQ entries may contain spoilers. Only the biggest ones (if any) will be covered with spoiler tags. Spoiler tags have been used sparingly in order to make the page more readable.
For detailed information about the amounts and types of (a) sex and nudity, (b) violence and gore, (c) profanity, (d) alcohol, drugs, and smoking, and (e) frightening and intense scenes in this movie, consult the IMDb Parents Guide for this movie. The Parents Guide for A Time to Kill can be found here.
When two white supremacists Pete Willard (Doug Hutchison) and Billy Ray Cobb (Nicky Katt) brutally rape Tonya Hailey (Rae'Ven Kelly), a 10-year old black girl in rural Canton, Mississippi, her distraught father Carl Lee (Samuel L. Jackson), figuring the boys will simply be set free due to the deep-seated racism in the Mississippi Delta area, takes justice into his own hands, shoots Willard and Cobb, and hires Jake Brigance (Matthew McConaughey), a young white lawyer, to defend him against the charge of murder. Aided by his former law professor Lucien Wilbanks (Donald Sutherland), fellow attorney Harry Rex Vonner (Oliver Platt), and law student Ellen Roark (Sandra Bullock) from the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) at Oxford, MS, Brigance is hindered by tough D.A. Rufus Buckley (Kevin Spacey) and a rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan.
The film is based on the 1989 novel A Time to Kill by American author John Grisham, who claims to have gotten the idea in 1984 when he overheard a 12-year old girl telling the court how she was raped and beaten. Grisham added to it the fictional situation in which the girl's father subsequently murdered her assailants. The novel was adapted for the screen by American film-maker Akiva Goldsman.
The character with the Mickey Mouse tattoo who warned Jake's wife about the cross-burning and who released Ellen after the Klan tied her to a tree is named Tim Nunley (played by John Diehl) in the credits. In the movie, he was simply a reluctant member of Freddy Lee's KKK group. Those who have read the novel report that Nunley was working as an informant for the police.
Although it looks like he's going to lose the case, Brigance begins to present his closing arguments, which are mostly based on the argument that Carl Lee was insane but which has been discounted by the prosecution. Remembering Carl Lee's admonition that, since Brigance is white and raised amid the same racial prejudices harbored by the all-white jury, he can only sway the jury by presenting to them whatever argument it would take to make him (Brigance), were he a member of the jury, vote for Carl Lee's acquittal. Tossing away his prepared statement, Brigance instead asks the jury to close their eyes and picture the rape, beating, hanging, and heinous treatment suffered by little Tonya at the hands of her attackers. Leaving many of the jury members with tears flowing down their cheeks, Brigance then tells them, 'Now imagine she's white.' In the next scene, a child is seen running out of the courthouse screaming, 'He's innocent!' Sheriff Ozzie Walls (Charles S. Dutton) arrests Freddie Lee (Kiefer Sutherland) as well as Deputy Hastings (Mark W. Johnson). In the final scene, Jake and his family show up at a lawn party at Carl Lee's house. Wife Carla (Ashley Judd) brings peach cobbler, and Jake explains to Carl Lee that he ' just thought our kids could play together.'
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