Friday, August 29, 2008

And Justice for All - When I discovered Actors

I suggested this movie for several reasons that I will bore you with shortly. But this classically late 70's (even though it came out in 1980) gritty drama is near and dear to heart for many reasons.

And now I shall bore thee!

This was the first movie I ever went to in the theater by myself! I was 16 years old (pushing 17) and already being a staunch idealist and an American loving Irish immigrant (I'd been in America 6 years at this point) - I was hoping for a Jimmy Stewart ala Mr. Smith Goes To Washington experience even though I hadn't seen that movie yet and didn't know it existed until I took a film class in college. But my favorite characters and historical heroes have always been those whose stand up for what is right even if they have to stand alone. So from that perspective Al did not disappoint.

This was also the first movie I had ever seen where I learned and realized that an actor alone - can carry a story and in fact make the story. Most of you who've watched this flick for the first time now - will probably not be able to see the "big deal" of what I'm describing because you had to see in the theater with an audience.

The final courtroom scene is now famous and because of the many great performances that have graced the screen since this film by other equally great actors - it may seem quaint at this point in time. But Al's monologue when he finally gets up to deliver his opening statement had me on the edge of my seat. Because up until that point - you truly don't know what he's going to do. You could have heard a pin drop in the theater.

He literally has you hanging by a thread until you see him getting a little emotional and his voice gets a little quieter - he leans into the jury just slightly, and with his eyes watering a bit and an ever so slight quiver in his voice - he delivers that magical line that only Al could - "Because - she's not lyin'!"

At that moment the entire audience - including me - gasped audibly and your gut instinct about him is confirmed; and then, again as only Al could, he finishes what is arguably one of the most famous and rousing monologues in movie history. When he is being dragged out of the courtroom the entire theater was on its feet cheering. And for a few hours afterward you absolutely love and have faith in the American justice system.

I've seen it a dozens times at least and I still get choked up watching it - because (as Andy pointed out) you realize that he gave up his career to do the right thing. I actually delivered that monologue once myself for an acting class in college and it was very easy to feel that emotion.

I'm sure most of you are thinking - "Uh ...what movie did he see?". As I mentioned, by today's standard, it seems a little dated . And I remembering asking a friend of my step-father's at the time who was a recent law school graduate what he thought of the movie; he responded that while it was fairly accurate, he said the odds of a single lawyer going through all that with the different clients would be almost impossible.

Another thing I learned watching this was how great actors can really draw you in. The scene where Author's partner and friend pull him into the bathroom to tell him why Flemming has been arrested - you find yourself laughing as hard as they are not because what they are saying is that funny but because the sincerity of their laughter is completely contagious.

Oddly enough one of the few critics that really liked this movie when it came out was Roger Ebert. A lot of critics thought it was over the top. And they may be right - but for a 16 year old boy in love with truth, justice and the American way - it was bang -on!


Jason Pyles, Movie Critic said...

Andy's comment:

Nice post Karl. The acting in the film really did make it tolerable for me, even if "the story's inability to fit with my experience" was overshadowing for me.

Jason Pyles, Movie Critic said...


Jason here. You bring up a good point about experiencing a movie in the theater vs. experiencing it later.

The only dated element, I thought, was the jazzy, T.J. Hooker music. Other than that, this movie stands up just fine to today's standards.

The speech at the end was killer. Nobody, and I mean nobody, can scream like Al Pacino. Hilarious. I'll never forget when he, as Michael in "The Godfather," screams at Kate for being in his business. Amazing.

Aside from the ending, I also thought his reaction to his buddy lawyer's failing his transvestite client was excellent, but I was greatly disappointed in what I thought was Al's over-acting during the phobic-of-flying helicopter scene.

Like you, Roger Ebert loves movies where people do the right thing and show true goodness, so I'm sure that's one reason why he loved this one. Yep, Ebert said he cries over Spike Lee's "Do the Right Thing."

Thanks for picking this flick.