A Time to Kill

on July 24, 1996 by Susan Lambert
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Boring. Obvious. Sappy. Director Joel Schumacher and his buddy, novelist (excuses to the literary world) John Grisham have done themselves one better than the muddled mess that was "The Client" by making an even more exhaustingly bad film with "A Time to Kill," adapted from Grisham's first and most personal novel. There are no surprises here except for the indecipherable motivations and exacting length of two hours and twenty minutes. Choppy cutting and zero transitions make for a rough and shorthanded 1950s movie mentality where what should be complicated race relations is spelled out in broad strokes and with capital letters.
In the Deep South of small town movie Mississippi, where everyone glistens with MTV sweat and speak in bad accents, a white man defends a black man for shooting two white men who raped the black man's ten year old daughter. The white knight, um, man--Jake Brigance--is played by relative newcomer Matthew McConaughey who many are referring to as a new Paul Newman. Newman he ain't just yet. But he is a good-looking, Wonder Bread boy cheerfully sitting in the catbird seat here with a cigar firmly chomped between his teeth--an act which he somehow manages to make sexy. McConaughey has been better in everything else he's done before this. In both "Dazed and Confused" and "Boys on the Side" he is the best reason to sit through the film.
The vengeful proud black man is Samuel L. Jackson ("The Great White Hype") who does his best but can't escape the artlessness of his surroundings. Sandra Bullock gives a surprisingly great performance as a young law student who offers her services to the white boy. The chemistry between Bullock and McConaughey is the best tension of the movie and explains why Bullock championed (unsuccessfully) to get McConaughey as Keanu Reeves' replacement in Speed II. "Executive Decision's" Oliver Platt is a breeze of fresh and inspired air in his portrayal of Brigance's sleazy, but good-hearted friend. Kevin Spacey ("The Usual Suspects"), Donald Sutherland ("Six Degrees of Separation") and son Kiefer ("A Few Good Men") are wasted in their respective roles as bad white man, good white man and bad white man.
"Heat's" Ashley Judd gives the worst performance of her young career.
She deserves better than to play the stupid wife of the white knight, um, man. Simply stated, "A Time to Kill" is bad. But there is a time for everything and this would be a time to rent "To Kill a Mockingbird" instead. Starring Sandra Bullock, Samuel L. Jackson, Matthew McConaughey and Kevin Spacey. Written by Akiva Goldsman. Directed by Joel Schumacher. Produced by Arnon Milchan, Michael Nathanson, Hunt Lowry and John Grisham. A Warner Bros. Release. Rated R for violence and some graphic language. Running time: 142 min
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