A Civil Action is based on a novel by Jonathan Harr, which itself was based on a true story. Although remaining fairly faithful to the book, A Civil Action does take some liberties by adding more humor and, oddly enough, eliminating a lot of the emotional elements that made the book such an exceptional read. I think this ends up hurting the film.
By focusing primarily on Schlictmann's prosecution, and Jerome Facher's (Robert Duvall, in an excellent performance) defense team, the film doesn't leave much space for a heart. Only two of the victim's families are portrayed as more than just cameos in the picture. Both families have heart-wrenching stories and provide the backbone to the film. It is too bad only two such stories are shown, and in such a brief manner.
A Civil Action goes out of its way to portray the legal process accurately, while, at the same time, making sure the film moves along at a decent pace, and remains compelling throughout. It's fun to watch the way a lawyer thinks, the games he plays in the courtroom, the manipulative tactics performed on the judge and jury, witnesses and anyone involved even slightly with the case.
If you want to see a courtroom film with all the trimmings, this is the one. It adequately blows away the contrived John Grisham tripe that we've been fed for the past decade in legal "thrillers". If you'd like more than just a touch of humanity thrown in with your courtroom thrills, you may want to pass this one up and hope for something better next time.
I'd give it 6 Juicy squirts out of a possible 10
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Copyright 2001 Alex Sandell [All Rights Reserved]