MOVIE REVIEW | …And Justice for All (1979)

In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “Al Pacino is so great in it, I blame this movie for his reliance on bluster and bravado ever since.”

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“Being honest doesn’t have much to do with being a lawyer.”

Call off the search!  I found it!  I found the moment Al Pacino went from the fresh faced, quiet, intensity of roles like Michael Corleone on The Godfather, and morphed into the gravelly voiced yelling that’s defined his career for the last several decades.  I haven’t just found the movie when it happened, I’ve found the exact, specific moment.   The movie is …And Justice for All.  The exact, specific moment, happens in the climactic final scene, just a few minutes before the end credits roll.

Arthur Kirkland (Pacino) is the last honest lawyer who genuinely cares left in Baltimore.  He cares so much, when the movie opens, Kirkland is in jail, charged with contempt of court after taking a swing at a judge.  You see, Kirkland’s client Jeff (Thomas G Waites) was pulled over for a broken tail light, but after a case of mistaken identity, thrown in jail for murder.  Now, a year later, Jeff is still in jail, and Judge Henry T Fleming refused Krikland’s latest request for an appeal.  Hence the punches being thrown.

So, everyone in the Baltimore legal system is surprised to say the least, when Judge Fleming is charged with rape, and chooses Kirkland to defend him.  Now, the last honest lawyer who genuinely cares is forced to take the last case he would ever want, or be called a hypocrite.  Conversations with his senile grandfather (Lee Strasberg as Sam) and legal partner (Jeffrey Tambor as Jay) expose the conflict faced by Kirkland.  If he’s going to champion the law for client’s like Jeff, he as to also follow it to the letter for people like Fleming.

Add to Kirkland’s problems a near death experience by helicopter with Judge Francis Rayford (Jack Warden as the only character who seems to come to close to Kirkland’s level of integrity), and this movie craps on its protagonist from go to whoa.  The entire story is Kirkland being tested, pushed to his absolute limits, constantly facing the kind of problems we wouldn’t wish on our worst enemy.  And along the way, Pacino makes you believe he’s the one man strong enough to take it, even when he does begin to fray around the edges.
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Here’s my major problem with …And Justice for All, Pacino is so great in it, I blame this movie for his reliance on bluster and bravado ever since.  Arthur Kirkland is all passion and integrity.  They’re the kind of broad character traits that let Pacino go big and chew scenery, while still remaining true to the role and the story.  It’s an approach that is perfect here, but has gone on to define so much of what’s wrong with a lot of his work in the years since.

…And Justice for All
Directed By – Norman Jewison
Written By – Valerie CurtinBarry Levinson

Other Opinions Are Available.  What did these people have to say about …And Justice for All?
Roger Ebert
The New York Times
Once Upon a Screen

2 thoughts on “MOVIE REVIEW | …And Justice for All (1979)

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