A Time to Kill (film)

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A Time to Kill
Time to kill poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJoel Schumacher
Produced byArnon Milchan
John Grisham
Michael Nathanson
Hunt Lowry
Screenplay byAkiva Goldsman
Based onA Time to Kill 
by John Grisham
StarringMatthew McConaughey
Sandra Bullock
Samuel L. Jackson
Kevin Spacey
Brenda Fricker
Oliver Platt
Charles S. Dutton
Ashley Judd
Patrick McGoohan
Donald Sutherland
Music byElliot Goldenthal
CinematographyPeter Menzies Jr.
Edited byWilliam Steinkamp
Production
company
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release dates
  • July 24, 1996 (1996-07-24)
Running time149 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$40 million (est)[1]
Box office$152,266,007[1]
 
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A Time to Kill
Time to kill poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJoel Schumacher
Produced byArnon Milchan
John Grisham
Michael Nathanson
Hunt Lowry
Screenplay byAkiva Goldsman
Based onA Time to Kill 
by John Grisham
StarringMatthew McConaughey
Sandra Bullock
Samuel L. Jackson
Kevin Spacey
Brenda Fricker
Oliver Platt
Charles S. Dutton
Ashley Judd
Patrick McGoohan
Donald Sutherland
Music byElliot Goldenthal
CinematographyPeter Menzies Jr.
Edited byWilliam Steinkamp
Production
company
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release dates
  • July 24, 1996 (1996-07-24)
Running time149 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$40 million (est)[1]
Box office$152,266,007[1]

A Time to Kill is a 1996 drama film adaptation of John Grisham's 1989 novel of the same name, directed by Joel Schumacher. Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Bullock, Samuel L. Jackson, and Kevin Spacey star, with Oliver Platt, Ashley Judd, Kiefer Sutherland, Donald Sutherland, and Patrick McGoohan appearing in supporting roles.

Set in Canton, Mississippi, the film involves the rape of a young girl, the arrest of the rapists, their subsequent murder by the girl's father, and the father's trial for murder. The film was a critical and commercial success, making nearly $150 million at the U.S. box office.[2]

Plot[edit]

Two white racists, Billy Ray Cobb and James Louis 'Pete' Willard, rape Tonya Hailey, a 10-year-old black girl.

Tonya's father, Carl Lee Hailey (Samuel L. Jackson), contacts Jake Brigance (Matthew McConaughey), a white lawyer. Brigance admits the possibility that the rapists will walk free. Carl Lee goes to the county courthouse and opens fire, killing both rapists and unintentionally injuring Deputy Looney. Carl Lee is arrested. Brigance agrees to defend Carl Lee.

The rape and subsequent revenge killing gain national media attention. The Ku Klux Klan begins to organize in the area. Freddie Lee Cobb (Kiefer Sutherland), the brother of Billy Ray, calls Brigance and makes death threats. The district attorney, Rufus Buckley (Kevin Spacey), decides to seek the death penalty, and presiding Judge Omar Noose denies Brigance a change of venue. Brigance seeks help for his defense team, close friend Harry Rex Vonner and former mentor and long-time liberal activist Lucien Wilbanks, a once-great civil rights lawyer.

Brigance is approached by Ellen Roark (Sandra Bullock), a law student from Massachusetts and member of the ACLU. Brigance is reluctant to accept Ellen's help but agrees to let her help with the case. The Klan burns a cross on Brigance's lawn. The police evacuate Brigance's family from their house. One of the Klan members warns Brigance of an upcoming attack. Brigance finds a bomb. Brigance throws the bomb away before it explodes. Brigance sends his wife and daughter away.

As the trial begins, the KKK march down Canton's streets and meet a large group of mostly black protesters at the courthouse. A brawl ensues between the KKK and the black protesters. Brigance goes home but arsonists have burned down his house, nearly killing his dog Max in the process. The next morning, as the Mississippi National Guard is called in. Harry Rex arrives at the remains of the Brigance home and tells Brigance that it is time to quit the case. Brigance argues that to quit now would make his sacrifices meaningless. The jury secretly discusses the case. All but one are leaning toward a guilty verdict.

Freddie Lee Cobb shoots at Brigance as he exits the courthouse, but misses. Roark is kidnapped by Klansmen, beaten, tied to a stake and left to die. She is saved by one of the Klansmen. Out of options, Brigance goes to see Carl Lee in his jail cell and advises copping a guilty plea. Carl Lee refuses and rejects Brigance's notions of race and justice, noting that although Brigance considers himself a "friend" to Carl Lee, Brigance has never visited his home and that "Our kids will never play together." He tells Brigance to sway the jury by presenting to them whatever argument it would take to get Brigance himself to vote for acquittal, were Brigance a member of that jury.

During closing arguments, Brigance tells the jury to close their eyes and listen to a story. He describes, in slow and painful detail, the rape of a young 10-year-old girl, mirroring the story of Tonya's rape. He then asks the jury, in his final comment, to "now imagine she's white." It is implied that the father's motive in murdering the rapists would have been seen by the public as justified, and there would have been no prosecution.

The argument Brigance then makes is that if the jury can—at any time—be compelled to spare the life of a white man for a vengeful murder, then they must do the same for a black man. After deliberation, an African-American child runs out of the courthouse and screams, "He's innocent!" Jubilation ensues amongst the supporters outside. The KKK, enraged, become violent again. Sheriff Ozzie Walls arrests Freddie Lee, as well as a racist deputy. The movie ends when Brigance brings his wife and daughter to a family cookout at Carl Lee's house.

Cast[edit]

Reception[edit]

Box office performance[edit]

According to Boxofficemojo.com, the movie performed well, earning over $108 million domestically.

Critical reception[edit]

The film received mostly positive reviews from critics, earning a 67% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 51 reviews,[3] a critical consensus reading: "Overlong and superficial, A Time to Kill nonetheless succeeds on the strength of its skillful craftsmanship and top-notch performances". It has a score of 54 out of 100 on Metacritic, based on 21 reviews.[4]

James Berardinelli gave the film three stars out of four, calling it "involving, energetic, and occasionally thought-provoking".[5] Roger Ebert also gave the film three stars out of four, saying: "I was absorbed by A Time to Kill, and found the performances strong and convincing," and added that "this is the best of the film versions of Grisham novels, I think, and it has been directed with skill by Joel Schumacher."[6]

The film was not without its detractors, however. Anthony Puccinelli gave the film one star, calling it "worthless" and remarking: "A Time to Kill argues for vigilantism but disguises its message by making the vigilante black, allowing viewers to think their blood lust and thirst for revenge is actually empathy for the oppressed."[7] Peter Travers felt that "they [Schumacher and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman] cram[med] in too much," adding, "This distracts from the heart of the picture, which is in the bond between Carl Lee (the brilliant [Samuel L.] Jackson is quietly devastating) and Jake, a husband and father who knows he, too, would have shot anyone who raped his little girl."[8]

Grisham enjoyed the film, remarking: "When all was said and done I was happy with it, happy we were able to find a kid like Matthew McConaughey. It wasn't a great movie, but it was a good one."[9]

Reaction in France[edit]

In France, the film has been the subject of much controversy. Critics have accused the movie of making an apology for the death penalty and right of self-defense. A question mark was added at the end of the title ("Le Droit de tuer ?"/"The Right to Kill ?"[10][11]) so as not to shock the audience. Amnesty International France uses the word "disturbing" when referring to the film in one of its documents.[12][not in citation given] Les Inrockuptibles described the film as "nauseating", "stinking", almost "fascist", with a script "ultra-populist" that makes you want to "vomit".[13] Libération criticized the script, calling it "extremely dirty": the movie, says the newspaper, "militates in favour of the black cause only to legitimize, after many plot buckles (resurrection of the Ku Klux Klan, the deceits of court, threats [of m]any kinds) the mentally ill gesture of the avenging father". According to Libération, the movie "justifies the indefensible" with a "dripping sentimentalism".[14]

Accolades[edit]

Soundtrack[edit]

A Time to Kill
Soundtrack album by Elliot Goldenthal
ReleasedAugust 20, 1996
GenreClassical, avant-garde, modernist
Length35:02
LabelAtlantic
82959-2
ProducerMatthias Gohl
Elliot Goldenthal chronology
Michael Collins
(1996)
A Time to Kill
(1996)
The Butcher Boy
(1998)

Elliot Goldenthal scored the film. AllMusic gave the soundtrack two and a half stars out of five, commenting that it "doesn't work particularly well when it's separated from the film itself."[15]

  1. "Defile and Lament" – 2:33
  2. "Consolation" – 2:23
  3. "Justice Wheel" – 0:46
  4. "Pavane for Solace" – 2:29
  5. "Abduction" – 2:58
  6. "An Asurrendering" – 1:35
  7. "Pavane for Loss" – 1:07
  8. "Take My Hand Precious Lord & Retribution" by The Jones Sisters – 6:50
  9. "Torch and Hood" – 2:02
  10. "Pressing Judgement" – 1:29
  11. "White Sheet" – 2:38
  12. "Pavane for Solace" (piano solo) – 2:06
  13. "Verdict Fanfare" (For Aaron) – 4:03
  14. "Take My Hand Precious Lord" – 4:03
Crew/Credit

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]