Good films always raise compelling questions, whether the format is fiction or documentary fact.
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How does a director cast Sean Connery, Laurence Fishburne, Ruby Dee and Ed Harris in the same film, set it in the deep south with the potential of atmosphere and suspense galore, start off with a pretty nifty premise concerning a man unjustly sentence to the chair--and come up with a turkey? Just Cause churns along at a fairly nifty pace until about midway, and pretty soon we have car chases, mad scenes, rotting corpses, smelly swamps and the whole panoply of predictable plot lines any seasoned moviegoer can spot while making a good lasagna casserole. My suggestion is to invite the neighbors over for the casserole and forget this movie--unless you might enjoy Ed Harris doing his own hysterical version of Hannibal Lecter, chains and all, It's as if nobody around was given a script until the last minute, and being professionals, they all did their best--but the last half was never delivered and so there were some noble attempts at improvisation that didn't quite work.
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Dr Jacques COULARDEAU
To fight against the death penalty is a just cause. Everyone who is sane in Europe would think so. In the USA everything is different. The film seems to demonstrate in a first stage that justice can be won against the racist bigot death penalty craving American justice. A young man is freed from death row thanks to a law professor who went back to defense counseling for this particular case. But the film has a sequel. Justice in the USA is entirely governed by the aim of vengeance. Miscarriage of justice is just the same governed by vengeance. One person in the local Public Attorney Offfice has a young man prosecuted on false charges. This Public Attorney's officer drops the charges after a while and the young man walks out free. But he loses his college scholarship and he is castrated by some vengeful people for whom there is never any smoke without a fire. He hides his shame and swears to get his vengeance. But he also needs to satisfy his sexual needs which are more mental than hormonal for sure but even stronger because mental and no longer hormonal and he can only do that with little girls. He apparently teams with another serial killer who is after the same kind of preys. One day the local cops follow their intuition, guided by some vague circumstantial elements in the assassination of a young girl, and they arrest the young chap we are speaking of. They beat him up and interrogate him for 22 hours with nothing but blows and blows and telephone books and guns and Russian roulette. He confesses. Sent to death row, he asks his grandmother to go get the law professor in Massachusetts who is the husband of the Local Public Attorney's representative that had him falsely prosecuted some years ago and the vengeance is on the rails. It will fail but it shows that as soon as one in the line of justice, police work and other security forces steps off the line of absolute legality, some unjust act is done that can ruin even the best accusation case and that can nourish the worst deepest imaginable thirst for vengeance. To charge someone on circumstantial elements is just as bad as to let circumstantial elements ruin the work of the police or of justice. The best intentions on the police side are ruined by some personal involvement and vengeful intention, just as much as the life of a person can be jeopardized by circumstantial elements inflated to the size of evidence, which in its turn will jeopardize the whole case by being just circumstantial, hence easily discardable, with a good lawyer. The film then is a deep reflection on the necessity to respect standards and regulations all along the police and justice line if we don't want to make a mistake, which in its turn of course does not justify the death penalty since anyway it goes against the deepest belief Americans are supposed to have: "We hold these truths to be self-evident , that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." (Declaration of Independence) Life is an unalienable Right that was given to man by his Creator, which means no one but the one who gave it can take it away. Only God can take the life of a person away. The death penalty is the arrogant appropriation of a power that we do not have. Even if we do not evoke God, we cannot justify the death penalty except as an act of vengeance, and here the film shows vengeance is the worst possible motivation in the rendition of justice and in the establishment of public peace. If vengeance is pushed aside there is no other justification for this death penalty. And there can always be a mistake in that pursuit not of Happiness but of vengeance.Dr Jacques COULARDEAU, University Paris 1 Pantheon Sorbonne, University Paris 8 Saint Denis, University Paris 12 Créteil, CEGID
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I enjoyed this movie, granted it is mainly because I enjoy seeing Sean Connery act and this one has the added bonus of having Ed Harris and Lawrence Fishburne in it too. The story has a grandma seeking out Connery's assistance because her grandson is in prison and she says he was wrongly convicted. At first it seems there may have been some racist aspects of the case, however it later turns out the main officer on the case was black himself and it seems he did some rather bad things to coerce a confession out of the boy. Well the boy tries to point to another killer locked up in the same prison, one who is about to be put to death. He is a particularly nasty person too, as he takes a lot of joy in what he did, writing the relatives of his victims and trying to get people to mail them. A lot of twists and turns in this one with some of it being somewhat unexpected. Me I just enjoyed Sean Connery's character trying to make sense of the whole ordeal. The movie also made me mad in areas, especially when you find out what ultimately happened. You get very good interplay between Connery and Harris and Connery and Fishburne as they all shine rather well in this one. In the end this one makes for a rather good suspense/thriller.
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Paul Armstrong is a liberal, Scottish-born, professor of law at Harvard, known for his passionate opposition to the death penalty, who is hired to take on the case of Bobby Earl, a young black man from Florida who has been convicted of the rape and murder of Joanie Shriver, an eleven year old white girl. Earl claims that his confession to the crime was obtained under duress by a sadistic police officer and that the real murderer is Blair Sullivan, a serial killer already under sentence of death for several other murders. Armstrong visits Sullivan in his cell on death row, hoping to persuade him to confess to Joanie's murder, thereby saving Earl from the electric chair. At first all goes well. Sullivan confesses and Earl is released from prison when the appeal court quashes his conviction. As this development takes place only a little after halfway through the film, it is at this point that alarm bells will start ringing in the mind of the viewer. "Warning! Major plot twist ahead!" And so it proves. The anticipated twist soon materialises. Earl, it transpires, is actually guilty of the crime of which he has just been acquitted, and probably of several others as well, but hatched a diabolical plan together with Sullivan in order to secure his freedom; Sullivan will confess to Joanie's murder if Earl will murder his parents. (Just why Sullivan wanted his parents dead is never precisely explained). Armstrong now finds that he is himself in danger from the man whose life he has just saved; Earl has a grudge against Armstrong's wife, herself a lawyer, who acted as Counsel for the prosecution in an earlier case when Earl was accused of rape. "Just Cause" is an example of the auto-cannibalism in which Hollywood sometimes likes to indulge, cobbling together one film by recycling themes and plot devices from a number of others. The first half owes an obvious debt to films like "Intruder in the Dust" and "To Kill a Mockingbird"; about the only difference is that the Sheriff who beats a confession out of Bobby Earl is himself black, whereas in earlier films he would have been white. (Police brutality is now an equal opportunities activity). The central twist in the plot was borrowed from Costa-Gavras's "Music Box", although in that film the revelation does not occur until the very end. The finale, in which a lawyer, his wife and their young daughter are in danger from a former client, is an obvious plagiarism of the two versions of "Cape Fear", which also take place in the swamplands of the American South. Ed Harris' characterisation of Sullivan as a Bible-quoting religious maniac is a direct imitation of Robert de Niro's character in the Scorsese version of "Cape Fear", made four years before "Just Cause". (There is a postscript. Just as "Just Cause" borrowed heavily from several other movies, seven years later its central plot twist was, in its turn, to be blatantly plagiarised in the Ashley Judd vehicle "High Crimes"). The trouble with this style of film-making-by-numbers is that the resulting films are generally much less distinguished than those which inspired them. The whole is normally very much less than the sum of the parts, and "Just Cause" is a much lesser film than any of those which were cannibalised to make it. Harris is normally a gifted actor but this is one of his weakest performances, largely because he is not so much playing a character as playing de Niro playing Max Cady. Blair Underwood is OK as Bobby Earl the (supposedly) innocent young man of the early scenes, but unconvincing as Bobby Earl the murderous psychopath of the later ones. Sean Connery as Armstrong and Laurence Fishburne as the black Sheriff are rather better, but neither is good enough to save the film. (Connery and Harris were to act together in another, better, film, "The Rock", the following year). There is another problem with "Just Cause". The first half of the film looks like a standard liberal "issue" movie, anti-death penalty, anti-racist and critical of heavy-handed policing. The second half looks more like the work of a die-hard reactionary, preaching the message that all criminals are evil bastards, that the only way to deal with them is to fry them in the chair, that liberal lawyers are the useful idiots of the criminal fraternity and that police officers who beat up suspects are to be commended as heroes. The filmmakers seem to have been blissfully unaware that the plot twist casually introduced into the middle of their film had the (presumably unwanted) effect of reversing its political stance, or if they were aware of the problem they ignored it. A suitably convoluted plot was obviously thought to be more important than political consistency. 4/10