And then there are the obtuse attorneys, those who mastered all the secret handshakes of the law—the legal lingo and the strategic places where monkey wrenches get inserted—but lost their humanity somewhere along the way. Duped agents of the law, drunk from Kool-Aid courtrooms, they tragically come to believe that settlement checks and plea bargains are more important than justice, and that truth is easily sacrificed to the rapid disposal of cases. Common courtesies, such as the power of apologies, are all but forgotten. Such films as A Civil Action, A Few Good Men, The Sweet Hereafter, The Accused and Flash of Genius pick up on this theme.
When the legal system fails to dispense justice, citizens are left with no option other than to take the law into their own hands. Such actions of self-help are, of course, illegal; and for this and other reasons, society discourages personalized retribution. But movies about the law have their own logic—they allow citizens to play by different rules. In life, people are expected to abide by a judge’s ruling and live with injustice. In art, they are granted the moral imperative to turn a travesty of justice into an outcome that is recognizably just.
Quiz: Which movie lawyer are you
Attribution: Illustration by Steven Hughes, text by Thane Rosenbaum.