With the release tomorrow of The Lincoln Lawyer
starring Matthew McConaughey
, I was challenged to look back at other notable depictions of lawyers on film, and specifically come up with a list of those under-dogs who fought against seemingly insurmountable odds for the good of their clients. This list is in no particular order and nor is it definitive, but I was challenged to come up with six and six I have included...
Atticus Finch To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)
Ranked the #1 Film Hero of All Time by the American Film Institure in 2003, Gregory Peck's
portrayal of a morally crusading lawyer in a small Alabama town during the 1930's deservedly won him his one and only Oscar. As Atticus Finch he takes on the case of a young black man who is accused of raping a white woman, and the racially divided town instantly condemn him as guilty despite no evidence suggesting he committed the crime. Based on the Harper Lee novel of the same name and written for the screen by Horton Foote, Peck captures the gentle but determined nature of Finch perfectly. Modern movie lawyers are more often than not depicted as corrupt and power hungry, but not Finch. His honesty and morally incorruptible nature makes him one of a kind.
Rudy Baylor The Rainmaker (1997)Matt Damon
takes the role of a rookie lawyer chosen to represent a young boy who is dying from a serious illness, but is being denied care by the insurance company that is supposed to be caring for him. Damon does a fine job of making Rudy appear amateurish and somewhat naïve in his actions as both a lawyer and a human being. The Rainmaker is certainly one of the more memorable stories of the little man against a huge company, but more importantly, Rudy exhibits a mindset that hadn't really been explored previously on screen: that every client counts.
Jake Tyler Brigance A Time To Kill (1996)
McConaughey's first on screen outing as an attorney was actually in A Time To Kill in the mid 90's, as a lawyer who defends a black man (Samuel L Jackson on fine form) accused of killing the men responsible for raping his 10 year old daughter. A grittier and bigger budget modern day take off of To Kill A Mockingbird, McConaughey could never match the presence of Peck as Finch but his closing argument in court is stirring enough to warrant one of the biggest miscarriages of movie justice in history.
Bob Kearns Flash of Genius (2008)
This little seen picture stars Greg Kinnear
as inventor Bob Kearns who comes up with the idea of a wiper mechanism for cars that works like the eye, 'blinking' every few seconds as opposed to continuously wiping. After hammering out a deal with the Ford Motor company, he reluctantly gives a prototype to the researchers who have also been working on a similar design but to no avail. When Ford don't return his calls, he sneaks into a convention showcasing the latest Ford Mustang: with of course the big selling point being his wipers. Representing himself, he takes on the entire Ford attorney team for credit and payment. Although this is a typical David vs Goliath court room drama plot, it's based on a true story and Kearns really did take on Ford. What really sets this movie aside from the rest is the exploration of the effects that the trial has on his life, both emotionally and financially.
Vinny Gambini My Cousin Vinny (1992)
When two New Yorkers are accused of murder on their way back to college in Alabama, they use one of their inexperienced cousins, Vinny (Joe Pesci
), to defend them. The underdog aspect comes in a few forms here: it took 6 attempts at Vinny passing the BAR exam, and his previous experience is only in cases of personal injury. The evidence against the defendants is coincidentally strong, and being a New Yorker himself and travelling to the South, Vinny isn't accustomed to the rules and regulations of the area. Add the fact that the judge is incredibly strict with enforcing the procedures, and things don't look too good for him. He relies on his street smart, straight talking upbringing and picks apart the witnesses testimonies one by one. Marisa Tomei
won her first Oscar for her role as the pushy but well meaning fiancée of Vinny.
Frank Galvin The Verdict (1982)
The late great Paul Newman
gives one of the best performances of his illustrious career as an alcoholic ambulance chaser. When a former associate reminds him of a seemingly straightforward case involving medical malpractice in which both parties are willing to settle out of court, Galvin sees it as an opportunity to salvage his declining career and takes the case to trial, much to the dismay and anger of his client. The obvious reason for Frank being the underdog is his not so successful success rate; he has only taken 4 cases in the last 3 years and lost them all. But his personal demons also affect his work, and having a client totally disagreeing with actions isn't exactly the definition of a good relationship. There's also the factor of the defence having a huge team of expensive lawyers, a fact portrayed brilliantly when a scene depicting their meeting behind closed doors cuts to a dingy library with Galvin and his associate as the only two people working on the case. A true courtroom drama classic and a shining example as to why Newman is one of the greatest actors of all time.