Marty Rockman, the notorious producer of the hit reality-TV show "So Sue Me", has a brand new concept: "Citizen Verdict". Each week a real criminal case will be tried before the American ... See full summary »
Marty Rockman, the notorious producer of the hit reality-TV show "So Sue Me", has a brand new concept: "Citizen Verdict". Each week a real criminal case will be tried before the American people, but this time they're also the jury. If the defendant is voted guilty in a death penalty case, Rockman will televise the execution. When an escalation in violent crime and terrorism hits the state of Florida, Governor Tyler, desperate to be seen as a tough-on-crime Republican leader in the upcoming Presidential race, decides to give Rockman his chance and "Citizen Verdict" goes into production in Tampa. Selected by phone-in vote, the show's first contestant is Ricky Carr -- a man accused of the rape and murder of popular celebrity-chef Dolly Hamilton. The case is a surefire ratings winner. But when an investigation begins, it becomes apparent that Ricky may be innocent of murder. Written by
Sujit R. Varma
The film ostensibly has an outrageous plot. For the last few years, TV audiences have been swamped with "reality shows". As Armand Assante's character Sam Patterson says: "You're not voting someone off an island: you're not evicting someone from a dormitory: you're banishing someone from the planet!". It is illusion versus reality. It is the ultimate "what if" proposition. What if the citizenry were to be able cast a vote on guilt or innocence in the manner that a jury does? I have problems with the basic hypothesis and hence with the film itself. You may as well have "Citizen Surgery", "Citizen Psychiatry" or "Citizen Dentistry" (I hope they're not going to be sequels - they'd have to be comedies if they're ever made) where anyone could put in their $19.95's worth. First and foremost, you would be allowing people who might not be fit for all sorts of reasons to cast a vote, the only criterion being of whether the person in question can muster up $19.95 on their credit card to enable them to vote! People may be racially motivated; be prejudiced against a certain profession e.g. teachers. They may be mentally unfit and so on. That's why juries are screened as you can see in "The Devil's Advocate" (Al Pacino, Keannu Reeves). True that's open to manipulation but it's better than open slather. The story fails on its basic premise. It's interesting to revolve it as a speculation but no more than that. I sense the film-makers expected us to take it a little more seriously. One of the previous reviewers, nitatestock35 made a comment to the effect that he suspected that some of the people were not actors. The clue to an answer to this is in the final credits where it is revealed that Armand Assante himself was the interviewer. Most likely real interviews were conducted by Assante (probaly as an afterthought) which were then melded into the storyline to give the film a sense of verisimilitude which it desperately needed. There was indeed a judge in the interviews but also a defence lawyer as well as a District Attorney and a smattering of 'ordinary folk' with their various prejudices.
American jurisprudence is not my long suit but I cannot imagine any jurisdiction in the world allowing a court of first instance to be the final arbiter of a capital case. Any decision rendered by a single judge of lower would be taken to an appellate court. No lawyer/attorney/solicitor/barrister worth his salt would be content with an adverse verdict and would appeal the decision perhaps all the way to the Supreme Court of America or in Australia's case, the High Court. Is this one of the "loose story threads" mentioned by others. Of course the 'deus ex machina' employed by the scriptwriters in introducing damning videotape (which it is also suggested would have been inadmissible under those circumstances in a real court case) obviates the more subtle nuances of court procedure. The tape brings the trial to a grinding halt and we don't have to think about the byways of the appeal process.
Raffaelo Degruttola gave a sterling performance as a violent schizophrenic time-bomb whose cloak of calmness is easily torn away. But if he hears voices, as he says he does after admitting to the murder, should not psychiatric evaluation been available to him. Are schizophrenics executed regardless in America? The execution scene is harrowing. One of the most interesting characters was Carlene Osway played by Dorette Potgieter, a beautiful blonde girl in the Finnish style, whose outer beauty is counterbalanced by an inner moral bankruptcy and void. Bad people are almost always the most interesting. Indeed ironically she uses her beauty to further her ignoble pursuits first turning up unannounced to Sam's yacht (please don't tell me it's a ketch or yawl, I'm not strong on boats either) dressed like "stripper" to help him but who eventually ends up in Marty Rockman's spa-pool and bed. This is a girl who wants to get to the top in the shortest time possible. She definitely 'stoops to conquer'. I don't watch the Jerry Springer Show for reasons you can guess at. I thought, despite other comments to the contrary that his performance (and he's no stranger to the camera lens) was creditable ending in his penultimate scene where his diatribe on his perceptions of reality are summarised as he declares TV to be the present God. The scene is skilfully edited into a melange of overlapping and interlocking images reinforced by the crescendo of clashing music chords giving the viewer a surreal insight into the distempered mind of a megalomaniac corrupted by power and money.
The film was entertaining enough but I cringe at the preachy proclivities of some American directors. After delivering a speech to law graduates on the incorruptibility of law (ha-ha!), Sam sails off in his 'boat' emblematic no doubt of the American ship of state on the vast blue ocean of hope and promise. But just in case we didn't get the point, or perhaps it was slipped in gratuitously for us foreigners, we are treated to the strains (and I do mean strain, the tenor barely made the high notes) of "Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory of the Coming of the Lord" and I was seriously wondering whether I was expected to stand up in my lounge-room and put my hand over my heart. Well! that's it! Having sung that, we're all better now! Nothing could ever go wrong again, they would have us believe. But it doesn't work. For all its imperfections, it is still a mild diversion which really doesn't offer any answers and if you can as Coleridge exhorts to bring yourself to accept a "willing suspension of disbelief for the moment which constitutes poetic faith", then the film viewed as an diversion rather than a didactic vehicle, stands the test as entertainment.
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