Tag Archives: Christine Lahti

…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

Just Between Friends (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 0 out of 10

4-Word Review: Friends share same guy.

Holly (Mary Tyler Moore) and Sandy (Christine Lahti) become friends while attending an aerobics class. Holly then invites Sandy over to her home for dinner unaware that Sandy is having an affair with her husband Chip (Ted Danson). Sandy is equally unaware that the man she is seeing is her new best friend’s mate. After the awkward experience is over Sandy decides to call off her relationship with Chip only to have him die unexpectedly a little bit later. Sandy then tries to help Holly get back on her feet, but without ever confiding with her that she was at one time ‘the other woman’. When Holly is cleaning out her husband’s office she comes across incriminating photographs of Sandy and Chip together and decides to angrily confront her with it.

One of the biggest drawbacks to the film is the casting of Moore in the lead. She’s an actress I’ve always liked, but here she is too old for the part. She was already pushing 50 at the time and Danson, who was 11 years younger, comes off more like an older son than a husband. In fact the opening shot has an extreme close-up of her where you can clearly see the age lines etched on her face making her later conversation where she asks her hubby if they should have another child seem utterly absurd. The intended idea of showing how completely opposite Holly and Sandy are seems more like a generation gap than contrasting personalities and watching Moore in an exercise outfit is genuinely disturbing as she is too thin and her ribs jut right through her shirt.

Lahti’s character is crass and snarky and not at all likable. The idea that she would know nothing about the personal life of the man she was seeing isn’t believable. Now I’ve never been involved in an affair, but I would think if someone is really into someone else, even if it is as the other woman, they’d want to know as much about him as they could including having some knowledge about who he was married to instead of being completely in the dark with what they were up against.

The affair angle gets introduced too suddenly and then right away she gets invited over to Holly’s for dinner and the awkwardness ensues, which isn’t half as funny or compelling as it could’ve been. The film should’ve shown how the affair began as well as to why Chip was unhappy with Holly, which never gets thoroughly explained, and then had the dinner scene played out later on when the viewer was more engrossed with the situation and characters.

There is also a lot of embarrassing comedy that gets mixed into the already cringy drama and only helps to unnecessarily prolong the scenes. The satirical jabs at the on-air news talent are particularly poor as it exaggerates how dumb they are in a film that is supposedly trying to be realistic otherwise. I don’t exactly know what writer/director Allan Burns has against newscasters, but both he and James L. Brooks produced the ‘Mary Tyler Moore Show’, which portrayed Ted Baxter, the newscaster on that series, as being a complete imbecile and here the news anchors are shown in much the same way, but by this time it comes off like an old, overplayed joke.

Having Danson die in the middle was a big mistake as his character was the only thing that brought in any interesting dramatic tension and the film flat lines the rest of the way without him. Allan Burns had some success producing TV-series despite the dubious distinction of having created ‘My Mother the Car’, but clearly making movies was beyond his capabilities and it’s no surprise that he never directed another film after this one.

My Rating: 0 out of 10

Released: March 21, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 50 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Allan Burns

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD (MGM Limited Edition Collection), Amazon Video, YouTube