The racial tensions of the south are exploited when a black man takes justice into his own hands after his daughter is assaulted by two white racist men.
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A Time to Kill is a crime thriller directed by Joel Schumacher which was adapted from John Grisham's first novel, "A Time to Kill." In this riveting film set in rural Northern Mississippi, the hidden and not so hidden racial tensions of the deep south rise to the surface when a black man's daughter is brutally assaulted by two white men.
Upon learning the news of his daughter's assault, Carl Lee Hailey (Samuel L. Jackson) consults with local liberal lawyer, Jake Brigance (Matthew McConaughey) about the punishment the two men might receive and how they could be free in a year's time or less due to the white vs. black nature of the crime. Unsatisfied with this news, Carl Lee Hailey decides to take justice into his own hands, and murders the two young men. The story takes off from there with the ensuing trial of Carl Lee Hailey.
Jake Brigance, a young, local, liberal lawyer is retained by Mr. Hailey as his attorney to defend him in the capital murder case. Jake, who has a wife, Carla (Ashley Judd) and a daughter, Hannah, who is the same age as Carl Lee Hailey's daughter, Tonya, willingly takes the case, for he wanted the two men dead as much as anyone and feels the two men received the justice they deserved. However, Jake is up against an incredibly successful district attorney in the form of Rufus Buckley (Kevin Spacey).
It is reminiscent of David vs. Goliath. Kevin Spacey gives his usual A1 performance portraying a close minded attorney who's greater agenda is the governor's office, and Rufus is fully aware a conviction in this case will catapult him into that position. Jake is also up against a very racist (which is illustrated beautifully by the black servants he employs at his plantation style home)and intimidating judge, the Honorable Omar Noose (Patrick McGoohan), who would assume hang Carl Lee Hailey on the courthouse lawn.
And while these opponents are vicious, none are as vicious as the deep seeded racism he is fighting. In a case where Carl Lee Hailey is as guilty as sin under the current U.S. legal system, one gains a great sense, if he was white, he may have never even been charged. Kiefer Sutherland gives a fabulous performance as the leader of a local K.K.K. chapter and represents the greater cause that Jake is trying to dismantle. Even one of the local sheriff deputies is on the wrong side of the law.
However, Jake represents the good that still exists in today's society. While he is tempted at times to quit and waivers on infidelity with his associate played by Sandra Bullock, he never gives in to his temptations, and continues to persevere, which generates the hope for a brighter future that we all dream of.
McConaughey, in my opinion, gives his best performance to date, and while he's played many good roles, none have been as captivating as his role as Jake Brigance. He epitomizes the thoughts, feelings, and temptations of a young, married father, and he proves time and time again, good always prevails evil. Through his character portrayal, one can truly feel the agony he is experiencing, and his desperate plea to show Carl Lee Hailey's as well as his own innocence. He continues to fight, even when all is bleak, and his Oscar-worthy speech in the end could capture even the hardest of hearts.
A Time to Kill is a movie that seems to fly under the radar, in my opinion, but is one of the most underrated films of all time. McConaughey is brilliant along with the other great performances from stars such as Sandra Bullock, Charles S. Dutton, Kevin Spacey, Donald Sutherland, Oliver Platt, and Kiefer Sutherland.
This film is gut-wrenching, and strains the fine line between right and wrong. It plays on every emotion and one finds himself truly routing for our hero, Jake, at all times.