Yesterday, America watched the justice system hard at work as it passed down a guilty verdict for Jodi Arias. In case you have been living under a rock, Arias is the 32-year-old Arizona woman who, five years ago, admitted to killing her lover Travis Alexander by stabbing him and shooting him 27 times in his own house. The trial, broadcasted on HLN, featured graphic testimony from Arias who testified that she killed Alexander in self-defense. The defense team painted a vivid picture of Arias throughout the trial as a spiteful ex-girlfriend who planned the vicious murder out of jealousy. At 4:30 yesterday, you could have watched the verdict announcement on any number of networks or websites including CNN.com, People.com, or simply heard about it on Twitter. And, if you are just learning about the saga of Arias for the first time, don’t fret. The case has already inspired an upcoming TV movie, starring Tania Raymonde of “Lost” fame, which was in the works even before the verdict was read. Americans love watching trials, and I don’t necessarily believe it is because they are paying homage to the judicial system. These trials are real life soap operas, filled with tears, emotional outbursts and riveting cross-examinations which all ultimately can lead to someone living or dying.
The courtroom scene has become a staple in the popular culture. I remember when I used to work on the soaps, the courtroom set went up at least once a week to provide the appropriate backdrop to so-and-so’s murder trial. There are dozens of TV shows that are dedicated to the criminal justice system — these are commonly referred to as procedurals — so many that they get their own category in the People’s Choice Awards. And how can we forget the infamous trial that wrapped up nine seasons of my beloved “Seinfeld” by declaring the funny foursome guilty of “doing nothing.” But, it’s the silver screen that can really bring the courtroom to life, particularly in the following films:
A Few Good Men – A young, arrogant Daniel (Tom Cruise) is assigned a murder case that no one expected to go to trial. But, JoAnne (Demi Moore) believes in the innocence of the defendants and makes a case that they should get their day in court. Col. Nathan Jessup (Jack Nicholson) is called to the stand to testify, and the rest is history. “I want the truth!”, screams Cruise at Nicholson in front of a shocked jury, a bewildered prosecutor (Kevin Bacon) and a proud Moore. I’ll spare you every other quote from the movie (I can literally recite them all) in the hopes that if you haven’t seen it, you will be intrigued to rent/download/stream the film. It is my favorite courtroom drama of all time and it deserves recognition.
A Time to Kill – A little known fact is that Matthew McConaughey gave up pre-law college studies to become an actor. He has easily made up for it with roles in Amistad, The Lincoln Lawyer, and one of my favorites A Time to Kill. Carl Lee (Samuel L. Jackson) kills the two white men on trial for raping his daughter in fear that the mostly white jury would acquit them. With the help of Ellen (Sandra Bullock), Jake (McConaughey) must now defend Carl Lee, while protecting his own family from the likes of Freddie (Kiefer Sutherland) and his fellow Klan members. Based on the book with the same name from the procedural master, John Grisham, the movie is an emotional roller coaster that requires a tough stomach to watch.
My Cousin Vinny – Who said all courtroom movies had to be dramas? In this delightful comedy, Vinny (Joe Pesci) must come to the rescue of his cousin and a friend who have been wrongfully accused of murder. In order to do this, he relocates from Brooklyn to a rural Alabama town and presents his case, all the while trying not to piss off the judge or rub the fellow townspeople the wrong way. Hilarity ensues as Vinny is held in contempt for his attitude/style of dress/lack of courtroom knowledge but, it’s Vinny’s fiancé Mona Lisa (Marisa Tomei) who saves the day as a key witness. Marisa won an Oscar and Pesci proved he could do comedy as well as gangster.
Primal Fear – Unlike the other movies on this list, I have seen this movie only once. So, while I can’t quote it or speak about its specific details, I can tell you that the ending is a whopper which stays with you for days afterwards. In the film, a young altar boy, Aaron (Edward Norton) is accused of killing a priest and Martin (Richard Gere) serves as his defense attorney. It’s Norton’s debut role so the audience is introduced to a real talent. Throughout the movie, we are left to wonder what his real motives are.
There are so many more quality movies that take place in a courtroom. You are probably rolling your eyes at me for not including Jim Carrey’s Liar Liar, Tom Hanks’ Philadelphia or Julia Roberts’ Erin Brokovich but, what can I say? It’s my list. And then there are the classics like To Kill a Mockingbird and 12 Angry Men which I didn’t even touch. Bottom line, the courtroom makes for a good movie, a good TV episode, and, in the case of the Jodi Arias trial, a good reality show.
A Few Good Men
A Time to Kill
My Cousin Vinny