March 17, 2011

MRQE Rewind: The Best Lawyer Flicks

Coming out this weekend is The Lincoln Lawyer. Matthew McConaughey plays Micky Haller, a young Beverly Hills lawyer that manages his business from the back of his Lincoln town car. He takes on a high profile real estate case that proves more complex than he anticipated. The film is the newest in a long line of legal thrillers and dramas that have won audiences over for decades. This is a winning formula: a young, morally conflicted lawyer taking on the trials, and tribulations, of our legal system. And we love seeing the good guy come out on top. Here are my favorites, the movies that give some meaning to right over wrong.

10. The Verdict (1982) - MRQE Metric: 72

Paul Newman plays a boozed up Boston lawyer in this contemplative legal drama directed by Sidney Lumet. The case revolves around a misdiagnosed patient who sits in a coma, pitting Newman's lawyer against a hospital run by the Archdiocese of Boston. Although I find the pace of The Verdict to be somewhat lagging, what makes it worthwhile is Newman's fascinating performance. One of the elder statesmen on my list brings weariness to the role and makes the story that much more human. If I'm ranking performance, Newman's number one! And despite lacking the punch of a thriller, it is a great, enduring legal drama that you rarely see come out of Hollywood.

9. The Firm (1993) - MRQE Metric: 64

At Number 9, we have Paul Newman's heir, Tom Cruise in The Firm. Newman and Cruise teamed up for Color of Money, and I'm sure Newman had a few pointers for the young Top Gun star's career. Not a bad choice with this thriller, adapted from the John Grisham novel. Cruise plays a hotshot young lawyer who joins a big law firm and quickly reaps the benefits of its success. But after the murder of two associates, he is caught in a bad case of his own. The bad guys, including Gene Hackman, are sinister, and Tom Cruise is, well, Tom Cruise. This was when he was fun to watch, and you rooted for him! The Firm is a classic, and it is not Cruise's last appearance on my list.

8. Michael Clayton (2007) - MRQE Metric: 77

At Number 8, it's my man George Clooney in one of the better triumphs of good over evil that we've seen in recent years. Michael Clayton is the quintessential "down-on-his-luck" fella, a compulsive gambler who can't catch a break. He's a "fixer" for his law firm, someone who is meant to clean up the dirty situations. But when a close friend and fellow attorney ends up dead, Clayton decides to investigate the apparent "suicide," only to uncover a massive corporate conspiracy, leading up to an exciting showdown in the film's finale between Clayton and the icy corporate lackey played brilliantly by Tilda Swinton. The legal conspiracy at stake is not important. Clooney drives this film, in arguably the best performance of his career.

7. Amistad (1997) - MRQE Metric: 75

Amistad does not get much credit in the Steven Spielberg pantheon of spectacular films. But I've always admired the film for its ambition and the tackling of powerful subject matter. Based on the true story of a slave rebellion that occurred on a ship bound for the American colonies in 1839, the film delves into the legal proceedings that followed, which decided if the Africans were deemed personal property or stood as people with individual rights. Anthony Hopkins plays John Quincy Adams in a thoroughly amusing role, and a cast of players including Morgan Freeman, Stellan Skarsgard and Matthew McConaughey (!) make this film a worthwhile historical drama.

6. The Hurricane (1999) - MRQE Metric: 74

The Great Rubin "Hurricane" Carter gets his story told in this biographical film. It follows the wrongful accusation of the former middleweight boxer for triple murder and the nineteen years he went on to spend behind bars. Only when a group of pen pals--led by an under-privileged youth from Brooklyn--respond to his case and decide to investigate, is Carter's sentence given proper consideration in U.S. Court. Although this is arguably a boxing movie, I would say that the intense work done by Carter's supporters in overturning his case, nearly twenty years after conviction, makes this story one of the most inspiring legal dramas to ever hit the big screen. And The Hurricane should have won Denzel Washington a Best Actor award! But that's just my opinion.

5. My Cousin Vinny (1992) - MRQE Metric: 66

And for a little relief from the dramatic fare, we have My Cousin Vinny at number 5. Joe Pesci plays the eponymous character, a fast talking New Yorker, who drives out to rural Alabama with his sassy girlfriend, played by Marissa Tomei, to defend his cousin in a local murder trial. Despite Vinny's inexperience and his irreverent attitude toward authority, he ends up winning the case with smarts that surprise everyone in court, including himself. The film is a comedy, but what makes it great is the story. In one of the few films on this list that takes place primarily in the courtroom, it excels with a very clever--and surprisingly intricate--legal plot that captivates. Plus, Joe Pesci and Marissa Tomei are incredibly fun together on-screen.

4. Philadelphia (1993) - MRQE Metric: 73

Sorry folks, back to the drama, and an intense drama at that. Jonathan Demme's Philadelphia was the timeliest film on my list upon its release. When this courtroom drama came out in 1993, the AIDS epidemic was still a very sensitive, controversial topic. Tom Hanks delivers a memorable, if not haunting performance as Andrew Beckett, a lawyer who was wrongfully laid off from his law firm after contracting the AIDS virus. Inspired by a true story of one of the first AIDS discrimination cases, Denzel Washington plays the lawyer who represents Beckett, overcoming his own personal prejudice in the process. Director Demme masterfully films a courtroom setting that is both disarming and deranged. In the end, the Beckett team wins, providing one last courageous victory for Hanks' character before succumbing to the disease.

3. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) - MRQE Metric: 92

You do not get more courageous than my choice for number 3. To Kill a Mockingbird is read and watched in classrooms across the country. And Atticus Finch--played by Gregory Peck--is the quintessential good guy for the courtroom genre. ATTICUS FINCH...the name just exudes good guy awesomeness. Adapted from the novel by Harper Lee, this legal drama centers around Peck's character, a hard working, ethical attorney in who defends Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a young white woman in 1930s Alabama. As the trial progresses, and ugly Southern prejudices surface, Tom's innocence grows clear. But the verdict goes against Robinson and Finch is left at a loss. Rarely does a legal drama depict injustice as its final outcome, which makes To Kill a Mockingbird that much more resonant.

2. 12 Angry Men (1957) - MRQE Metric: 86

In another classroom staple, at number 2 is 12 Angry Men. I vividly recall watching this film in my 8th grade Civics class. Directed by a young Sidney Lumet, this film teaches more about the impact of the average man on our justice system than any other film on my list. Did the teenage boy murder his father? Initially 11 out of 12 members believe so, but Henry Fonda convinces each juror that there is reasonable doubt. This film accurately presents the kind of power and responsibility held by the most average (and moody) US citizen. Every character in this film has his moment. Kudos to Sidney Lumet for shooting the entire film in one room and keeping the tension so thick you can cut it with a knife.

1. A Few Good Men (1992) - MRQE Metric: 69

My number one is a personal favorite. I must have watched this film dozens of times in college. A Few Good Men is a classic. "You want the truth, you can't handle the truth!" is arguably one of the most memorable movie lines in recent memory. Penned as the first feature by Aaron Sorkin, the movie centers around a young lawyer for the US Navy--played by Tom Cruise--who takes on the murder case of a Marine officer at Guantanamo Bay. With an all-star cast including Jack Nicholson, Demi Moore and Kevin Bacon, there are definitely a Few Good Actors in the lineup--especially Nicholson, who plays a real baddie. Justice is served in the end. With some great acting, a great score and some interesting twists, this is my favorite legal flick.


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  2. Totally agree with everything here! Thanks for compiling an awesome list of lawyer movies, with trailers to boot. Sharing this with my car accident lawyer orlando friend.


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