A Time to Kill

Excellent Movie. I was more interested to watch the Rio Olympics, but my daughter persuaded me otherwise – she said that “A Time to Kill” was a great movie and we should watch it together.

Which we did.

The great thing about Hollywood is how the director and the actors bring to life some great story together with amazing teamwork and execution of a high calibre. Of course, only some of the great Hollywood movies fit that description. A Time to Kill is one such very good movie with excellent acting by Samuel L Jackson, Matthew McConaughey, Kevin Spacey, Sandra Bullock and Donald Sutherland, and outstanding direction by Joel Schumacher. And, of course, I don’t have to say anything about the famous incisive author of the novel on which this movie is based – John Grisham. Grisham is one of the most successful novelists of all times with his series of legal thrillers. A Time to Kill was his first novel.

The movie deals with complexities arising out of racial violence, skewed justice/jury system and issues of determining the crime when the defendant takes the law into his own hands and renders his own justice to get his revenge. From a neutral standpoint, it is difficult to decide the case – on one hand, the father of a child who was raped appears to be right when he kills and takes revenge on the two men who did that heinous act; on the other hand, society depends on meting out justice through an established system of law enforcement combined with the judiciary, however corrupted it might be in this context (which the director depicts in no uncertain terms in several scenes involving the District Attorney aspiring to the the Governor of the state and the Judge, further complicated by a biased Jury), and in this case, the defendant does exactly the opposite, he does not depend on the judiciary to render proper justice and takes the law into his hand and kills the two men.

The whole issue here in the South of the U.S. had been race – the Blacks have been subjugated for a long time, and in this town where the crime happens, they are a minority, and so the Jury is composed of entirely White people. How does the defendant get justice in such a system ? He does not hope to get justice. So, he seeks the help of a White lawyer for saving him from the almost sure death penalty that is going to be meted out to him by the Jury and the Judge, guided by a rather effective District Attorney.

And, that lawyer wins the case for him ultimately, notwithstanding huge personal costs to him and his family. His family had to leave town and his house was burnt down…….and so on and so forth. The best scene of the movie comes towards the end when this lawyer delivers his amazing closing arguments to the Jury which appears to have pre-meditatedly united to declare his client guilty of the two murders. But his speech transforms them and they vote not guilty and release the defendant from death penalty.

Fantastic storyline, no doubt. But the movie raises questions which are not answered – such as the respect for the judicial system, corruption of the judiciary, rigging of the case by the district attorney in what appears to be a working justice system, and the personal delivery of justice as opposed to the society-approved delivery via the courts. One can argue (as the deputy Looney argues in the movie) that almost anyone will do what the defendant does to the rapists in the movie, and the defendant himself says they will burn in hell, but then if everyone takes the law into his/her hands then what happens in the larger society? Can we allow that? Do we want chaos and violence?

It is also funny that the White supremacists (the Klan) are not forcefully dealt with by law enforcement. The violence they unleash even on the White lawyer, his assistant, and his researcher (Sandra Bullock) is just unbelievable – it also means they do not respect their own justice system, and wish to take the law into their hands to take revenge on the killer of the two White rapists.

In essence, this movie goes to the very fundamentals of societal living, respect for laws and rules, respect for each other, non-violence to achieve objectives, racism, and humanity and human values. What is left if all these vanish to the detriment of mankind?

Important and valuable movie, everyone needs to see it.


Vijay Srinivasan

7th August 2016



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