Samuel L. Jackson, Matthew McConaughey
, Sandra Bullock
Splendidly acted—with one noteworthy exception—and for the most part directed with disciplined precision by Joel Schumacher, this courtroom potboiler, derived from a novel by that paragon of the genre John Grisham, is tension-driven, relentlessly absorbing and emotionally, if not intellectually, satisfying.
Unfortunately, Bullock—playing a hotshot northern law student who intrudes into a Mississippi murder trial—is ludicrously unconvincing, letting her chronic cuteness define her character and taking the perky way out in even the most serious scenes.
The rest of the cast is exemplary. Jackson uses his natural haunted look to great effect as a heavy-equipment operator, tried for murder after killing two rednecks who raped his 10-year-old daughter. As the idealistic white lawyer who defends Jackson, McConaughey (see page 74) evokes the young Paul Newman, both in being too handsome for his own good and in acting with a restraint that suggests there's much more to him than meets the eye. Kevin Spacey is predictably impressive as a politically ambitious prosecutor, and Donald Sutherland reaches back for an almost touching performance as the disbarred, besotted lawyer who is McConaughey's mentor. Even Sutherland's son Kiefer has some good moments.
No deep insight into race relations is offered here, but Grisham spins a yarn so seductive that Time remains engrossing even after the insipid Bullock-McConaughey romance peters out and the trial outcome is hardly in doubt. (R)