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.