For Law Students

12 Angry Men (1957)

Short Review: The defense and the prosecution have rested and the jury is filing into the jury room to decide if a young man is guilty or innocent of murdering his father. What begins as an open-and-shut case of murder soon becomes a detective story that presents a succession of clues creating doubt, and a mini-drama of each of the jurors’ prejudices and preconceptions about the trial, the accused, and each other. Based on the play, all of the action takes place on the stage of the jury room.

The Social Network (2010)

Short Review: On a fall night in 2003, Harvard undergrad and computer programming genius Mark Zuckerberg sits down at his computer and heatedly begins working on a new idea. In a fury of blogging and programming, what begins in his dorm room soon becomes a global social network and a revolution in communication. A mere six years and 500 million friends later, Mark Zuckerberg is the youngest billionaire in history… but for this entrepreneur, success leads to both personal and legal complications.

To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

Short Review: Small-town Alabama, 1932. Atticus Finch (played by Gregory Peck) is a lawyer and a widower. He has two young children, Jem and Scout. Atticus Finch is currently defending Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white woman. Meanwhile, Jem and Scout are intrigued by their neighbours, the Radleys, and the mysterious, seldom-seen Boo Radley in particular.

A Few Good Men (1992)

Short Review: In this dramatic courtroom thriller, LT Daniel Kaffee, a Navy lawyer who has never seen the inside of the courtroom, defends two stubborn Marines who have been accused of murdering a colleague. Kaffee is known as being lazy and had arranged for a plea bargain. Downey’s Aunt Ginny appoints Cmdr. Galloway to represent him. Also on the legal staff is LTJG Sam Weinberg. The team rounds up many facts and Kaffee is discovering that he is really cut out for trial work. The defense is originally based upon the fact that PFC Santiago, the victim, was given a “CODE RED”. Santiago was basically a screw-up. At Gitmo, screw-ups aren’t tolerated. Especially by Col. Nathan Jessup. In Cuba, Jessup and two senior officers try to give all the help they can, but Kaffee knows something’s fishy. In the conclusion of the film, the fireworks are set off by a confrontation between Jessup and Kaffee.

Thank You for Smoking (2005)

Short Review: The chief spokesperson and lobbyist Nick Naylor is the Vice President of the Academy of Tobacco Studies. He is talented in speaking and spins arguments to defend the cigarette industry in the most difficult situations. His best friends are Polly Bailey that works in the Moderation Council in alcohol business, and Bobby Jay Bliss of the gun business own advisory group SAFETY. They frequently meet each other in a bar and they self-title the M.O.D. Squad, a.k.a. Merchants of Death, disputing which industry has killed more people. Nick’s greatest enemy is Vermont’s Senator Ortolan Finistirre, who defends in the Senate the use of a skull and crossbones on cigarette packs. Nick’s son Joey Naylor lives with his mother, and has the chance to know his father in a business trip. When the ambitious reporter Heather Holloway betrays Nick disclosing confidences he had in bed with her, his life turns upside-down. But Nick is good in what he does for the mortgage.

Philadelphia (1993)

Short Review: Fearing it would compromise his career, lawyer Andrew Beckett hides his homosexuality and HIV status at a powerful Philadelphia law firm. But his secret is exposed when a colleague spots the illness’s telltale lesions. Fired shortly afterwards, Beckett resolves to sue for discrimination, teaming up with Joe Miller (Denzel Washington), the only lawyer willing to help. In court, they face one of his ex-employers top litigators, Belinda Conine.

Chicago (2002)

Short Review: Murderesses Velma Kelly (a chanteuse and tease who killed her husband and sister after finding them in bed together) and Roxie Hart (who killed her boyfriend when she discovered he wasn’t going to make her a star) find themselves on death row together and fight for the fame that will keep them from the gallows in 1920s Chicago.

Sleepers (1996)

Short Review: Four boys growing up in Hell’s Kitchen play a prank that leads to an old man getting hurt. Sentenced to no less than one year in the Wilkinson Center in upstate New York, the four friends are changed by the beating, humiliation and sexual abuse by the guards sworn to protect them. Thirteen years later and a chance meeting lead to a chance for revenge against the Wilkinson Center and the guards.

In the Name of the Father (1993)

Short Review: Based on the true story of Gerry Conlon, a Belfast youth who – along with family members and friends – was wrongly convicted of bombing two pubs outside of London. A story about the relationship between a father and his son who fought for justice to clear his father’s name.

State of Play (2009)

Short Review: A petty thief is gunned down in an alley and a Congressman’s assistant falls in front of a subway – two seemingly unrelated deaths. But not to wisecracking, brash newspaper reporter Cal McAffrey who spies a conspiracy waiting to be uncovered. With a turbulent past connected to the Congressman and the aid of ambitious young rookie writer Della Frye, Cal begins uprooting clues that lead him to a corporate cover-up full of insiders, informants, and assassins. But as he draws closer to the truth, the relentless journalist must decide if it’s worth risking his life and selling his soul to get the ultimate story.

Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)

Short Review: Ted Kramer is a career man for whom his work comes before his family. His wife Joanna cannot take this anymore, so she decides to leave him. Ted is now faced with the tasks of housekeeping and taking care of himself and their young son Billy. When he has learned to adjust his life to these new responsibilities, Joanna resurfaces and wants Billy back. Ted, however, refuses to give him up, so they go to court to fight for the custody of their son.

The Firm (1993)

Short Review: Mitch is a much sought after young graduate of law school. When he’s made an excellent offer by a small law firm in Memphis, he and his wife Abby, are elated. Very soon Mitch becomes worried about “The Firm’s” clients, and is approached by the FBI who are investigating their Mafia connections.

My Cousin Vinny (1992)

Short Review: While heading for college, Bill and Stan are arrested in Alabama when circumstances point to them as having murdered a convenience store clerk. Unable to afford an attorney, they turn to Bill’s cousin Vinny, a brash New Yorker who took six tries to pass his bar exam. Worse, until now he’s only taken personal injury cases, none of which have gone to trial. Dragging along his even more abrasive fiancee Mona Lisa Vito, Vinny will have to straighten up fast, and keep out of jail himself, if he’s going to win the case.

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010)

Short Review: As the global economy teeters on the brink of disaster, a young Wall Street trader partners with disgraced former Wall Street corporate raider Gordon Gekko on a two-tiered mission: To alert the financial community to the coming doom, and to find out who was responsible for the death of the young trader’s mentor.

Witness for the Prosecution (1957)

Short Review: Ailing barrister Sir Wilfrid Robarts is thrust back into the courtroom in what becomes one of the most unusual and eventful murder case of the lawyer’s career when he finds himself defending Leonard Vole, a man being tried for the murder of a wealthy woman. With Robarts choosing to represent him, the two find themselves up against Leonard’s cold-hearted wife, Christine – who, in a surprising turn of events, chooses to appear in court against her husband.

The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996)

Short Review: Strip club owner Larry Flynt and his wife, Althea, create a pornographic magazine that ignores society’s morals and taboos. “Hustler” magazine brings the Flynts not only millions in profit but also the wrath of “decent” people. Flynt and his overburdened attorney find themselves in courtrooms all over the nation defending Larry against criminal and civil charges. In the meantime, Flynt is beset by paralysis, the result of an assassination attempt, drug addiction, mental illness, and Althea’s failing health.

Mississippi Burning (1988)

Short Review: In 1964, three civil rights workers from the North disappear in a small Mississippi town and the FBI are sent to investigate. Agent in charge Alan Ward does everything by the book. Agent Rupert Anderson however was a Sheriff in Mississippi before joining the FBI and understands the local culture. He’s also prepared to bend the rules a bit if it will help in the investigation. They focus on the Sheriff’s office and Deputy Clinton Pell in particular as they think he may be the weakest link in the conspiracy. As the investigation intensifies however, the KKK launch a series of attacks against the local African-American population. With no one on either side prepared to talk, Ward agrees to Anderson using his own unorthodox methods to learn what happened that night and who killed the three men.

Amistad (1997)

Short Review: Amistad is the name of a slave ship traveling from Cuba to the U.S. in 1839. It is carrying a cargo of Africans who have been sold into slavery in Cuba, taken on board, and chained in the cargo hold of the ship. As the ship is crossing from Cuba to the U.S., Cinque, who was a tribal leader in Africa, leads a mutiny and takes over the ship. They continue to sail, hoping to find their way back to Africa. Instead, they are misdirected and when they reach the United States, they are imprisoned as runaway slaves. They don’t speak a word of English, and it seems like they are doomed to die for killing their captors when an abolitionist lawyer decides to take their case, arguing that they were free citizens of another country and not slaves at all. The case finally gets to the Supreme Court, where John Quincy Adams makes an impassioned and eloquent plea for their release.

Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)

Short Review: It has been three years since the most important Nazi leaders had already been tried. This trial is about 4 judges who used their offices to conduct Nazi sterilization and cleansing policies. Retired American judge, Dan Haywood has a daunting task ahead of him. The Cold War is heating up and no one wants any more trials as Germany, and Allied governments, want to forget the past. But is that the right thing to do is the question that the tribunal must decide.

The Rainmaker (1997)

Short Review: Rudy Baylor is a young attorney out to make a difference in the justice system. He is also the only hope of an elderly couple after their corrupt insurance company refuses to payout a claim that could save their child’s life. In this judicial drama, Baylor rails against corporate lawyers, corrupt judges, and abusive husbands, all with the help of a fellow lawyer who hasn’t even passed his bar exam. He is facing long odds in the courtroom – and this is only his first case.

The Client (1994)

Short Review: Mark Sway is an 11 year old boy who lives with his mother and brother in a trailer. One day he and his brother are hanging out when a car pulls over beside them. The driver then sticks a hose in his exhaust and puts the other end into the car. Mark pulls it out. But the man sees him and grabs him and takes inside the car. The man talks to Mark then later shoots himself. The shock sends Mark’s brother into a catatonic state. .And one of his clients is a member of a mob family who is suspected of killing a Senator who was trying to take down his family. But because the Senator’s body is missing, they can’t prosecute him. Reggie thinks Foltrigg thinks the lawyer told Mark where the body is which is why he wants to speak to him. Mark goes to meet Roy and when he threatens him, Mark steps out then Reggie comes in with a recording of his conversation with Mark telling him that made several violations. In the meantime, the mobster is told by the head of the family to take care of Mark. So he threatens Mark. Mark doesn’t know what to do and learns that Reggie has some secrets of her own and is uncertain if he can trust her.

Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

Short Review: Paul Biegler is a small town lawyer who until recently had been the local district attorney and given a lack of clients, he spends a lot of time fishing. When a murder takes place in a trailer park on the outskirts of town, he is asked to defend Lt. Frederick Manion who admits to having killed Barney Quill, a local bar owner who allegedly raped his wife. Manion claims to have had a form of temporary insanity. The case is both prominent, with the State’s Deputy Attorney General personally prosecuting the case and lurid, given the rape and the sexual nature of much of the testimony. Biegler and his friend former lawyer Parnell McCarthy, now a bit the worse for wear and given to drink, must find a way to convince the jury when they little or no evidence to support their case.

The War of the Roses (1989)

Short Review: A levelheaded lawyer, Gavin D’Amato, has a worried client sitting in his office. This client is going through a divorce, obviously his first. So to make sure this quiet unnamed man plays his cards right, Gavin tells him the story of what happened to a colleague and former client: Oliver Rose. Oliver was a fair-game law student who met Barbara, a gymnast who lived for the thrill of the moment. They both shared a love for exquisite possessions and married right away. Their differences finally caught with them after 18 years, and they ended up in a bitter divorce. But divorce was anything but a solution, as custody of their possessions escalated beyond anyone’s, even Gavin’s help.

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Short Review: An old man going by the name of Kris Kringle fills in for an intoxicated Santa in Macy’s annual Thanksgiving Day parade. Kringle proves to be such a hit that he is soon appearing regularly at the chain’s main store in midtown Manhattan. When Kringle surprises customers and employees alike by claiming that he really is Santa Claus, it leads to a court case to determine his mental health and, more importantly, his authenticity.

In the Bedroom (2001)

Short Review: In idyllic Mid-Coast Maine, the Fowler family’s only son Frank comes home from his freshman year at college for summer vacation. His mother Ruth, the school choir director, is unhappy with Frank dating soon-to-be divorced mother Natalie who is several years his senior, but Frank’s father Matt, the town doctor, doesn’t see a problem. While Frank considers holding off his future for Natalie, her jilted husband causes them all problems until an unthinkable tragedy shakes the community to its very core.

Presumed Innocent (1990)

Short Review:  Turow’s cautionary tale of an Assistant District Attorney in an imaginary (but typical) Midwestern city reminds us of the difficulty we have in presuming someone innocent once he is accused. Harrison Ford plays unlucky ADA Rusty Sabich, accused of the murder of his lover, Raul Julia (himself a real life lawyer) is terrific as the smart and determined defense attorney with whom Sabich previously thought he had little in common. In some ways Presumed Innocent repeats some of the themes of Reversal of Fortune and Witness for the Prosecution: is the legal system intended to ferret out truth or resolve disputes–or both? Harrison Ford later played another lawyer in Regarding Henry.

The Merchant of Venice (2004)

Short Review: Venice, 1596. Melancholy Antonio loves the youthful Bassanio, so when Bassanio asks for 3000 ducats, Antonio says yes before knowing it’s to sue for the hand of Portia. His capital tied up in merchant ships at sea, Antonio must go to Shylock, a Jewish moneylender he reviles. Shylock wraps his grudge in kindness, offering a three-month loan at no interest, but if not repaid, Antonio will owe a pound of flesh. The Jew’s daughter elopes with a Christian, whetting Shylock’s hatred. While Bassanio’s away wooing Portia, Antonio’s ships founder, and Shylock demands his pound of flesh. With court assembled and a judgment due, Portia swings into action to save Bassanio’s friend.

The Verdict (1982)

Short Review: Paul Newman is a washed-up, alco­holic lawyer who gets handed a medical-malpractice case and sees it as one last chance to get his career right. James Mason is diabolical as his courtroom opponent who cavorts with the judge, played by Milo O’Shea. Charlotte Rampling is the love interest—whose interests may not be those of Newman’s character. Tight and tense direction by Sidney Lumet (12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon).

The Accused (1988)

Short Review: This movie is based on actual events. Sarah Tobias goes into a bar one night and winds up being gang raped by 3 guys. She is introduced to an attorney named Katherine Murphy. Not only does Katherine Murphy want to go after the men who commited the rape, she wants to go after the men in the bar who cheered it on. But Katherine has her work cut out for her. Her client has a past, and that past could be used against her in court.

A Man for All Seasons (1966)

Short Review: When the highly respected British statesman Sir Thomas More refuses to pressure the Pope into annulling the marriage of King Henry VIII and his Spanish-born wife, More’s clashes with the monarch increase in intensity. A devout Catholic, More stands by his religious principles and moves to leave the royal court. Unfortunately, the King and his loyalists aren’t appeased by this, and press forward with grave charges of treason, further testing More’s resolve.