A Review by Shlomoh Sherman

Director: Joel Schumacher
Writers: John Grisham (novel), Akiva Goldsman (screenplay)
Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Bullock, Samuel L. Jackson
Genres: Crime - Drama - Thriller
Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)
Rated R for violence and some graphic language
Country: USA
Language: English
Release Date: July 24, 1996 (USA) Filming Locations: Canton, Mississippi, USA
Production Co: Regency Enterprises, Warner Bros
Runtime: 149 min
All reviews of the film, A TIME TO KILL, that I have read, are scathing put-downs of the movie, and rightly so. This is truly a film that had tremendous potential to make an important statement about racisim in our country in our time. Instead, it is a highly predictatble, pretentious parody of a film about racism in our country in our time.

A TIME TO KILL tells the story of Carl Lee Hailey, a black man living in Canton, Mississippi, who kills two white rednecks that raped and beat his 10 year old daughter. More to the point, it is the story of Hailey's trial for the murder of these two white viscious bigots, and the story of Hailey's attorney, Jake Brigance, who takes the case for Hailey's defense at the risk of his life and the lives of all he holds dear.

As the movie begins its first sequence, we see the two young racists riding thorugh the black section of town, drinking, insulting the local black population, and destroying the property of the blacks. All this is done with impugnity while the blacks remain fearfully silent in the face of all this disrespect and destruction. We are supposed to believe that in the late 1980s, a community of black people, even such a community in the midst of Mississippi, would simply put up with such abuse, and suffer in silence.

Continuing on the wild spree, the two young hoodlums are driving along a deserted back road when they spy the young black girl walking alone, carrying groceries home. They stop their truck, grab her, and rape and beat her mercilessly, driving off without the least trace of fear that they will be punished.

However, the police immediately figure out who the perpertrators are. They are arrested and are being taken for theior arrainment. It is at this point that the girl's father, Carl Lee Hailey, rushes into the court house with an automatic rifle and shoots them dead in front of a host of witnesses. Hailey is arrested for murder and the we are into the meat of the story.

Young, white, good looking lawyer, Jake Brigance, takes the case and pleads Hailey inncocent by reason of temporary insanity at the timne of the shooting. At this point in the film, we are introduced to a host of legal volunteers, all of them superfluous to the story. They include a female liberal Northern law student who does NOT have any romance with Jake, an aging drunk law professor, and a divorce lawyer buddy of Jake's.

During the course of the trial, Jake has to put up with efforts by the KKK to stop him from defense of Hailey. He also has to put up with an unsympathetic wife (who in the end, comes around to seeing how great the cause is and how wonderfull, after all, her husband is).

In the midst of the trial, we are also introduced to a group of folks who wish to get Jake off the case and replace him with a more "appropriate" attorney. This group consists of the local minister, members of NAACP, including a Northern lawyer who is portrayed in the worst stereotypical fashion, or, as Mayor Koch correctly describes in his own review, as a "smirking, unfeeling Jew bent on turning the trial into a show."  This group of would be more proper defense people are depicted as real "outside agitators". The point the film is attempting to make here is that since the awful racist violence stems from this benighted Mississippi community, salvation is to arise from the same place, in the form of Jake, so that there can be some sort of congruence in righting the wrong.

The ending of the film is higly predictable and very melodramatic. To me, it was very unbelievable. Feel free to shell out $8 plus if you want to see good actors badly used.

The film hosts an impressive cast, including the two Sutherlands, (Donald and Kiefer), Samuel L. Jackson, Sandra Bullock, Kevin Spacey, and Patrick McGoohan. The music soundtrack and the cinematography are excellent.

New York


Take My Hand Precious Lord Written by Thomas A. Dorsey Produced by Matthew Johnson and Bruce Watson Performed by The Jones Sisters Courtesy of Fat Possum Records
Ain't Got Time To Die Traditional spiritual arranged by Randolph Watson
Slippin' Through The Oaks Written by Richard Paddison Performed by Jesse Johnson Courtesy of Dinosaur Entertainment
Ritz Written by Richard Paddison Performed by Jesse Johnson Courtesy of Dinosaur Entertainment
Antebellum Written by Richard Paddison Performed by Jesse Johnson Courtesy of Dinosaur Entertainment
Marilee Written by Richard Paddison Performed by Jesse Johnson Courtesy of Dinosaur Entertainment
Take My Hand Precious Lord Written by Thomas A. Dorsey Performed by Christ Memorial Church Choir/Andraé Crouch Singers Arranged by Andraé Crouch and Sandra Crouch Vocal soloists: Andraé Crouch, Cissy Houston and Táta Vega Cissy Houston appears courtesy of House of Blues Music Company

Cast overview, first billed only:
Matthew McConaughey ... Jake Tyler Brigance
Sandra Bullock ... Ellen Roark
Samuel L. Jackson ... Carl Lee Hailey
Kevin Spacey ... D.A. Rufus Buckley
Oliver Platt ... Harry Rex Vonner
Charles S. Dutton ... Sheriff Ozzie Walls
Brenda Fricker ... Ethel Twitty
Donald Sutherland ... Lucien Wilbanks
Kiefer Sutherland ... Freddie Lee Cobb
Patrick McGoohan ... Judge Omar Noose
Ashley Judd ... Carla Brigance
Tonea Stewart ... Gwen Hailey
RaƩVen Kelly ... Tonya Hailey
Darrin Mitchell ... Skip Hailey
LaConte McGrew ... Slim Hailey

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