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A Time to Kill

Reviewed by: Marcus Mann

Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
145 min.

Starring: Sandra Bullock, Samuel L. Jackson, Matthew McConaughey, Kevin Spacey / Director: Joel Schumacher

Based on John Grisham’s best-selling first novel, “A Time to Kill”, portrays an idealistic young lawyer and an ambitious law student, as they face extraordinary challenges and danger while representing a black father who kills the two white men who brutally assaulted and raped his 10-year-old daughter.

Carl Lee Hailey (Samuel L. Jackson), a Mississippi blue-collar worker, has his world turned up-side-down when his ten-year-old daughter Tonya is brutally assaulted by two racist thugs on a drunken spree. Fearing that the men will not receive justice in the deep south, Carl Lee takes the law into his own hands and murderers the men.

Carl Lee Hailey turns to an eager young lawyer, Jake Brigance (Matthew McConaughey) for his defense. Ellen Roark (Sandra Bullock), an energetic, brilliant law student at “Ole Miss,” volunteers to help in the case. Together they set out to prove that a fair trial can be heard, regardless of race.

The trial ignites into turmoil as Klan members march for “justice” (claiming Christian morals) and civil rights activists (anxious to keep their cause moving forward) try to manipulate the outcome. Jake and Ellen find themselves the target of hatred, bigotry and violence. Their lives, and the safety of family and friends, become increasingly jeopardized. Through it all, Jake and Carl Lee must find a way to get past their differences and work together for justice, and Carl Lee’s freedom.

“A Time to Kill” is a very good movie which should spark many hours of interesting conversation. Though deserving of its “R” rating for the intense subject matter, it contains no nudity and limited on-screen violence. It contains more bad language than one would prefer but the language did not detract from the over-all appeal of the film. A caution is in order, however, this is not a movie for children. Many of the scenes are intense and the subject matter is definitely adult in nature.

Although there were no clear “Christian” messages in this film, the main character (attorney Jake Brigance) is a faithful husband and father and does attend church. It was nice to see a movie where the leading man is tempted to be unfaithful (by no less than Sandra Bullock), but withstands the temptation and is strong in his devotion for his wife and family. Another positive message is portrayed in the last scene as the characters make a strong effort to overlook class and race differences to form friendships.

Unfortunately, the Klan (as in real life) tries to support its actions as biblical and Christian. Hatred and racism is not biblical, nor is it Christian. Another sad aspect of the movie is the amount of alcohol that is consumed by the “role model” stars. “When things get tough—drink!” That is the message that seems to be screamed. Whether this is an accurate portrayal of life is highly questionable, and it is regrettable that so much prominence is given to drunkenness.

If you are looking for a movie that has a fast pace, many good twists and turns in the plot, and can actually make you think, then I would recommend this movie. Some of the difficult questions raised in this thought provoking film are; can justice be found in a world which is undeniably race conscious? Regardless of race, is vigilante justice ever acceptable? Under what circumstances is it acceptable to deny responsibilities toward others?

(For deeper understanding: According to the Bible, how could all the races have come from Noah and his three sons? Click here for answer.)

Year of Release-1996

Viewer Comments
…a powerful movie which highlights the visible and invisible racism present in the Southern US judicial system. …The overall positive message of racial reconciliation makes “A Time to Kill” an appropriate movie for adult Christians. …contains negative images of false Christians such as cross-burning Ku Klux Klansmen and a self-motivated minister. However, “A Time to Kill” clearly portrays these roles as both hypocritical and repulsive. For an R-rated movie, it is surprisingly tame; no nudity and minimal profanity. Several violent scenes, although appropriate to the plot, earn the movie an R-rating. The violent scenes are necessary to bring the audience in from its removed comfort of watching the 11 o'clock news into the anguish and rage of being a part of the unfolding drama.
Greg Gaul, Florida