Film Scouts Reviews

"A Time to Kill"

by Leslie Rigoulot

Buy this video from

Books from
Buy The Book.

Music from
Buy The Score.

July 16, 1996

This is one easy review to write: WOW! Well, maybe "A Time to Kill" deserves more than just one word. As John Grisham's first novel it is expected to follow in the blockbuster footsteps of "The Firm", "The Client" and "The Pelican Brief" and it will. Joel Schumacher was chosen by Grisham to bring his first and favorite novel to the screen after having worked together on "The Client". It isn't often that an author has such power but Grisham isn't just any author. So when it came to casting he also had veto power over Schumacher's lineup that included Sandra Bullock, Samuel L. Jackson and Oscar winner Kevin Spacey. Bullock would be the seductive Northern lawyer, Jackson the father who murders two white men who have raped his daughter and Spacey would be the prosecuting attorney. But who would be the heroic defense attorney? Schumacher was determined not to have a big star who everyone would assume would win the case, and so the search began. It stopped with a Texas-born actor who Schumacher spotted in "Dazed and Confused" and again in "Boys on the Side". Matthew McConaughey was not a star, but all that will change on opening day. My Lord, the man is enough to take my breath away. Shall I compare him to a young Paul Newman? To Brad Pitt? No, these don't do him justice. As Jake Brigance, the young lawyer who defends Jackson, McConaughey takes the screen by storm. When he finishes his summation, there is not a sound in the theater: not a popcorn box, not a squeaky seat. But gorgeous young men do not a great movie make.

That is the job of the writer and director. Thankfully, Grisham and Schumacher have crafted a story that is spellbinding while striking at the very black and white race issues that have become so glaringly apparent. The racial tensions in a small town mirror the rest of America and give "A Time to Kill" the emotional depth to make it great. The politics of color leave no one untouched. Kiefer Sutherland is the hate filled brother of one of the rapists and he reintroduces the KKK to the small town of Canton. Charles S. Dutton is the black sheriff who must try to maintain order as tensions escalate. Donald Sutherland, Brenda Fricker, and Ashley Judd round out a cast that gives an astounding performance. Each must deal with the uniquely American problem of racial tensions that are not abstract but a part of everyday life. Leave it to Hollywood to be able to make a buck off the dysfunction of a national family! But if movies are our myths and myths have the power to heal, then let "A Time to Kill" lead the way. Rated R.

And for those who are as mesmerized by Matthew as I am, you can catch him in John Sayles's "Lone Star" with his "A Time to Kill" co-star Chris Cooper.

Back to 1996 Deauville Film Festival Reviews

Back to A Time to Kill

Back to the Press Room

Look for Search Tips

Copyright 1994-2008 Film Scouts LLC
Created, produced, and published by Film Scouts LLC
Film Scouts® is a registered trademark of Film Scouts LLC
All rights reserved.

Suggestions? Comments? Fill out our Feedback Form.