…and justice for all. (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Lawyer fights the system.

Arthur (Al Pacino) is a defense attorney who becomes increasingly more frustrated and disillusioned with the court system. He’s fighting to get one of his clients, Jeff (Thomas Waites), out of jail as he’s been sitting behind bars for over a year simply because he was mistaken for somebody else while also being forced to defend Judge Fleming (John Forsythe), a man that he vehemently hates, from a rape allegation.

The script by the husband and wife team of Barry Levinson and Valerie Curtain is chockfull of great insights into the American legal system and how messed up and prone to corruption it can sometimes be. Defense lawyers have in the past been glamourized in TV-shows like ‘Perry Mason’, but here the viewer gets a more stark assessment of their profession as they watch them being forced to defend those that they know are actually guilty. Yet it also balances this by showing how public defenders can also be the lone voice to those who are truly innocent and have no one else to speak up for them.

The film has a weird comedy/drama mix that doesn’t work and ends up getting in the way. When I first saw this many decades back I liked the humorous undertones as it gave production a surreal, satirical edge, but upon second viewing I didn’t find it to be as amusing. The script makes good hard-hitting points and adding in the humor only diminishes this message and takes away from the seriousness of the subject matter.

The side-story dealing with the suicidal judge, played by Jack Warden, should’ve been excised. I’ll admit the images of him eating lunch while sitting out on a ledge of a tall building, or trying to kill himself with a rifle are memorable, but pointless and by coupling this judge character with Forsythe’s crooked one seems to imply that all judges are either bad or crazy, which isn’t fair.

The storyline dealing with Arthur visiting his senile grandfather, played by Lee Strasberg, should’ve been cut out as well as it has nothing to do with the main plot. It also brings up many unanswered questions like why is Arthur close to his grandfather and not to his own parents and why did his parents apparently ‘abandon’ him? This backstory never gets sufficiently addressed and seems like material for a whole different movie altogether.

Spoiler Alert!

The storyline involving Judge Fleming is the most intriguing and should’ve been made the film’s primary focus, but I was disappointed with the way the judge glibly admits to his crime, which takes away the mystery angle and I would’ve preferred the truth coming out in a more dramatic manner. The film also has a very old-fashioned take to his situation by saying that just because the character is involved with BDSM activities that somehow makes him ‘deviant’ and more prone to committing rape, which has been proven untrue as there are plenty of people who can enjoy kinky activities with consenting partners and still remain ethical.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Overall the film is worth catching and has many interesting moments including Pacino’s final speech that he gives to a packed courtroom, which is a gem. This also marks the film debuts of Christine Lahti and Jeffery Tambor as Pacino’s lawyer friend who slowly goes crazy.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 16, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 59Minutes

Director: Norman Jewison

Rated R

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

4 responses to “…and justice for all. (1979)

  1. Jack Warden is just great in this. Pacino too.

  2. and endless yelling for AL!

  3. The side-story dealing with the suicidal judge, played by Jack Warden, should’ve been excised.

    The point served here is nihilism; and how unpleasant an experience life really is for almost EVERYBODY; including the upper middle class judge Rayford (Warden).

    Thus the story while he & Pacino are in the helicopter and he relates his experience in Korea; and his parachute failing; and he hits the trees and discovers the “Meaning of life”…

    “Which is?” queries Pacino

    “It sucks Arthur; it really sucks.”

    You seem him later in his courtroom called a “douchebag” by a psychiatrically unbalanced defendant; as he leaves the bench exclaiming “Same goddamn shit day in and day out; half these people belong in a mental hospital”.

    So his prestigious job is of little sustenance; as Nietzsche once noted that if a man be not free to do his will two thirds of his waking hours; be he refuse collector or captain of industry; then he is a slave!

    Of course 2021 America; in love with its WILLFUL IGNORANCE; thinks everything is fine & dandy…

  4. The storyline dealing with Arthur visiting his senile grandfather, played by Lee Strasberg, should’ve been cut out as well as it has nothing to do with the main plot.

    Nothing to do with the main plot!

    Gee; the editors of every film ever made will be very busy indeed if your injunction is obeyed!

    Strasberg serves as the Moral Center.

    He asks Arthur; “Are you a good lawyer; are you honest?”

    “Well; being a lawyer doesn’t have much to do with being honest”, Arthur replies.

    “If you are not honest; you’ve got nothing” his grandfather reproaches.

    To this day; 42 years later; that wonderful declaration sticks with Me and guides My interactions with humanity.

    There is nothing lower than a liar.

    So it is his grandfather’s excellent values that have been transmuted to Arthur; it is from him that they are derived; and this manifests in Arthur’s wonderfully noble scene at the denouement; happily throwing his “career” away in exchange for TRUTH AND JUSTICE FOR ALL.

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