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Five Best Dramatic Law-based Films
Aspiring lawyer? Avid political science major? Movie buff? Have you seen these five great dramatic law movies? Well, you should.
Twelve Angry Men (1957) - Based on the play by Reginald Rose, who also wrote the screenplay, this film is one of the only courtroom dramas to take place in entirely within the confines of the courthouse. It's the story of twelve men summoned in for jury duty who hear the testimony and sent into the deliberation room to decide a verdict. Eleven are certain of the accused man's fate, one asks that they take time and review the evidence. Sidney Lumet directs Henry Fonda as Juror #8, the man who votes not guilty for the sake of discussion.
What seems like an open and shut case soon turns into a heated debate that exists under the veil of one man's guilt but actually reveals the prejudices, preconceptions, personal backgrounds, interactions and complex personalities that shape modern America thinking. This film is a marvel not for it's cinematography or production value but for its storytelling. It slowly peels back the layers of the onion and uncovers the truth, however grisly and unforgiving, in astoundingly strong performances by Henry Fonda and Jack Warden that will be remembered for quite some time.
Erin Brockovich (2000) - Julia Robert's Academy Award Winning performance as an unemployed, poorly educated but fiery single mother desperate to find a job takes this based on a true story film to another level. Julia plays a woman who, through a series of unfortunate events is down and out on her luck but through her quick whip speaking skills gets herself a job at a low level law firm. What puts this film in the top five of all courtroom dramas is not just Steven Soderbergh's great direction and terrific performances by Julia Roberts, Albert Finney and Aaron Eckhart, but the actual implementation of law itself. Good does prevail, wrongs are made right.
It's the case every lawyer dreams of bringing forward. Erin Brockovich, while doing some work on a pro bono case discovers that Pacific Gas amp; Electric is buying up real estate that was contaminated by a deadly toxin which has been making its residents ill. Most people had never heard about this case until the movie came to theaters and yet it was one of the biggest class action law suits in American history. The power of cinema shed light on what one multi-billionaire dollar company was trying to sweep under the rug.
Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (1939) - When Boy Rangers Leader Jefferson Smith is suddenly appointed by a weak and spineless Governor of the State to serve in the US Senate he finds his innocent ideals clash with those of the politicians. Frank Capra's amazing film starring the phenomenally talented Jimmy Stewart is a throwback to the old time ideals of honesty and hard work. Jefferson Smith seeks to get legislation passed to provide for a national boys' camp. However, Smith's efforts go against state boss Jim Taylor's agenda. Taylor tries first to corrupt Smith and when that doesn't work he turns to scandal.
This film is an extremely interesting look at the political process and a wonderful story about the rise of a common man who refuses to let the dirty political world get him down. It's Jefferson Smith's naivety and desire to "do the right thing" that makes this not only one of the best courtroom dramas of all time but one of the best films of all time.
Philadelphia (1993) - Jonathan Demme's heartbreaking drama about the firing of a gay AIDS infected lawyer is the most deeply moving and human "law" film of all time. Tom Hanks stars as Samuel Beckett, a wonderful lawyer who is also gay and has AIDS. His termination causes him to seek the assistance of another lawyer to take on his case; wrongful firing because of a form discrimination. No one wants to touch the case. Then eventually, a homophobic smalltime lawyer cautiously steps aboard. What ensues is a look into the truth of sexual preference based discrimination and bias and furthermore, into the bittersweet relationships that often reveal themselves only in the ensuing days before death. A true tearjerker and look at what is right and wrong.
A Few Good Men (1992) - Of course, the famous "You can't handle the truth" film. What list would be complete without it. Jack Nicholson, Tom Cruise, Demi Moore and Kevin Bacon light up the screen in this hard hitting military battle. In this film everything hits the wall. It's a story about cover-ups, conspiracies, pride and honor. This film takes place in a military courtroom which is somewhat different from a regular courthouse. It is much stiffer, there's a defiant air of dignity and responsibility.
Accountability is the issue here. Who was responsible for a man's death in his room the night before he was schedule to be reassigned. Mixed in with all the law terminology we also have to decipher military lingo but with Rob Reiner's direction this film, which could have easily fallen on its face and become a Lifetime movie of the week, rose to become an award winning spectacle with some of the most memorable scenes in film history. If you haven't seen this one yet be sure to go pick it up and make it a movie night. You'll be rattling off Nicholson's lines in no time.