Guest blog post: Adam Banner on favorite legal films and why he loves them. Adam is a criminal defense attorney. We recently got into a discussion about online behaviour. He mentioned that he and his staff blog as well. Their current challenge: to find the best legal films.
If there is one thing lawyers love to do, it’s argue.There aren’t many attorneys in my office that will admit when they are wrong without putting up a fight; it seems as though the need to debate is drilled into our DNA. This carries true no matter the subject. We all have our own opinions on just about everything, whether we are contemplating crime, the constitution, or cinema. We recently had an office-wide argument about the best legal movies of all time, and in the midst we tried to come up with a list of the ten best legal movies ever made.
There were some we all agreed on, but in the end we couldn’t narrow it down to just ten on our own. I decided we should take to the World Wide Web and consult some of the most respected lists on the subject. The result turned out to be the ultimate list of the best 54 legal films of all time. To make things a little more interesting, we also created an infographic to illustrate our findings.
Predictably, films such as To Kill a Mockingbird, A Few Good Men, Philadelphia, and 12 Angry Men dominated the list. There were also a few I had never viewed that turned out to be real gems. The following four weren’t on every list we reviewed, but I believe they definitely deserve a little more love and attention.
Paths of Glory – This film never really received its dues. Released in 1957, directed by Stanley Kubrick and starring Kirk Douglas, its anti-war sentiments must have cut too close to the bone. It was banned in Spain and France for quite some time and received plenty of negative publicity. It wasn’t nominated for a single Academy Award, which is ironic when one considers that the war-themed Bridge on the River Kwai dominated the Academy Awards that year. Anyone who appreciates the genre and hasn’t seen this movie should make it a priority.
A Civil Action – Many of the great legal movies are adapted from books, and the same holds true for the real-life tale of the Anderson v. Cryovac litigation. Viewers are treated to the classic “David vs. Goliath” story, where the underdog facing impossible odds is forced to do courtroom combat against a corporate giant with massive pockets. It has many elements similar to Erin Brockovich and The Verdict, yet the ending is not the same rags to redemption plot-line as those two films. A Civil Action illustrates two important realities of legal battles: they can completely consume the parties involved, and no matter the result, a verdict can never bring someone back to life or undo the damage already inflicted.
A Woman’s Face – Released in 1941 and starring Joan Crawford and Melvyn Douglas, this is a complex tale involving infidelity, blackmail, murder and money. Similar to Witness for the Prosecution and Double Indemnity, this was one of the first film-noir pieces to become incredibly popular. It is interesting to view a movie like this; it makes you wonder if anything similar could be made today and garner the same box-office success. Audiences’ tastes have definitely changed over the years, and all to often a film needs to have a fast-paced plot that relies more on style than substance to make the big bucks. Speaking of which…
The Lincoln Lawyer – Full disclosure here: this is one of my personal favorites, and it was my vote that got it on the list of 54. Matthew McConaughey nails the role of a cocky, too-sure criminal defense attorney, although the film gets a little fanciful in the second act, relying more on entertainment value than it does legal realism. Marisa Tomei, William H. Macy, Bryan Cranston, and the warden from Shawshank make for a great cast. I love the first thirty minutes of this movie, and it always makes me appreciate that my office isn’t in the back of a car. Though it may not be the most realistic depiction of a criminal prosecution, there are moments here where you can feel the star’s confidence and conviction rise and fall as he reflects on his profession. That is something every criminal defense attorney can relate to at some point in his or her career.