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"A to Z"
List of Law-Related Movies
Movies Organized by
Substantive Law Subject
Inspirational Lawyer Movies
Amistad (1997): A historical drama,
directed by Stephen Spielberg, that tells
the true story of African slaves who mutiny
against their capture and transport aboard La
Amistad, a slave ship. Focusing
largely on the courtroom scenes in which the
slaves are charged with mutiny, the story
a decision from the US Supreme Court
ruling that the slaves were wrongfully
kidnapped and in their rights to mutiny and
ordered them freed (realize this summary
does not do justice to the movie or the
story). Read Roger Ebert's review
(2013). Directed and co-written by Yang
Woo-suk This Korean movie tells the tale of an
underdog "street lawyer" who, with only a high
school diploma, takes on unpopular cases,
including the defence of several students
charged with being communist sympathizers. The
movie has a
rating on Rotten Tomatoes hovering in the
low seventies (percentage-wise).
Available here on iTunes.
Morant (1980). Starring
Edward Woodward, Jack Thompson. An excellent
Australian court-martial movie set in the time
of the Boer War. Three Australian lieutenants
are treated as scapegoats when prosecuted for
executing prisoners of war. Strong performance
by their defence lawyer. See a good review here from The Guardian.
Bridge of Spies
(2015). Directed by Steven Spielberg and
starring Tom Hanks as lawyer James B Donovan.
This drama is a fictional re-telling of the
arrest and legal defence of Rudolf Abel, an
accused and subsequently convicted Soviet spy.
There are good courtroom scenes as well as
scenes showing the ethical dilemmas facing the
lawyer played by Tom Hanks. The movie
currently has a
91% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Castle (1997). Starring
Michael Caton. An extremely hilarious
Australian comedy dealing with, of all things,
expropriation (hence the title, which stems
from the saying "A man's home is his castle").
Some hilarious courtroom scenes.
Laugh-out-loud funny. See Roger
Ebert's review (3 out of 4 stars).
The Conspirator (2010).
Directed by Robert Redford and starring James
McAvoy, Robin Wright, Kevin Kline, Evan Rachel
Wood and Tom Wilkinson. James McAvoy plays the
young lawyer assigned to defend Mary Surratt
(played by Robin Wright), the mother of the
alleged co-conspirator of John Wilkes Booth in
the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, arrested
for failing to provide the location of her
Conviction (2010). Directed
by Tony Goldwyn and starring Hilary Swank and
Sam Rockwell. Tells the true story of Bette
Ann Waters, a single mother whose brother was
(as it turns out) wrongfully convicted of
murder. Her "conviction" in her brother's
innocence leads to her returning to school -
and eventually law school - to help overturn
her brother's wrongful conviction through DNA
evidence (with the help of Barry Scheck of the
Roger Ebert's review (3 out of 4 stars).
Dark Waters (2019).
Directed by Todd Haynes and starring Mark
Ruffalo, Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins, and
Victor Garber. This movie tells the real-life
20-year struggle by lawyer Robert Bilott to
hold Dupont liable for its release of PFOA
(Perfluorooctanoic acid, a chemical related to
teflon) into the water system that caused
cancer and injured local livestock. The movie
is based on the article by Nathaniel
Rich, "The Lawyer Who Became
DuPont's Worst Nightmare" (6 January
2016). The film has a Rotten Tomatoes score in
the range of 90%.
(1982). Starring Ben Kingsley and a cast of
thousands. Directed by Richard Attenborough.
An epic story of the life of Mahatma Gandhi
who started as a lawyer in South Africa and
who end up liberating India from British
domination through his policies of
non-violence. Read Roger Ebert's 4 of 4 stars
Hurricane (1999). Starring
Denzel Washington. Directed by Norman Jewison.
Tells the true story of Rubin "Hurricane"
Carter's wrongful imprisonment on murder
charges and the efforts made by his lawyers to
free him from prison. Read Roger
Ebert's review (3.5 out of 4 stars).
Carter was an Executive Director of the Association in
Defence of the Wrongly Convicted, an
organization based, in part, out of Toronto.
Am Sam (2001). Starring Sean
Penn, Michelle Pfeiffer. A nicely told story
of a child custody case involving Sean Penn,
as the father, who has the mental capacity of
a 7-year old. When is 7-year old daughter is
taken by child welfare authorities, he hires a
lawyer (played by Michelle Pfeiffer) to act on
his behalf. Some good courtroom scenes. Read Roger
Ebert's review (2 out of 4 stars).
the Name of the Father
(1993): Based (loosely,
as noted by Roger Ebert) on the true
story of the
Guildford Four wrongfully accused of an
IRA bombing of a British pub in 1974, this
drama has Emma Thompson playing the
hard-working defence lawyer and focuses on the
trials and tribulations of Gerry Conlon
(Daniel Day-Lewis) and his father (Pete
Postlethwaite) wrongfully convicted for the
crimes. Read Roger Ebert's review
(2019). Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton and
starring Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx.
This courtroom drama tells the true life story
of Walter McMillan (played by Jamie Foxx) and
the efforts of his legal team, including Bryan
Stevenson (played by Michael B. Jordan), to
reverse his wrongful conviction. Note: this
movie is premiering at TIFF in September 2019
and is not slated for wider release until
later in the year.
(2017). This short documentary, available on Netflix Canada,
tells the story of Juan Catalan, convicted for
a murder he says he didn't commit in Los
Angeles and the efforts of his lawyer, Todd
Melnik. If you have not heard of the "long
shot" involved in his defence, I have
intentionally not described what happens.
(2016). Starring Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton,
directed by Jeff Nichols. A well-done
fictional recounting of the true life
courtroom battle of Richard and Mildred
Loving, an inter-racial married couple who
successfully challenged Virginia state law
prohibiting interacial marriage in the US
Supreme Court decision in 1967 in Loving
v Virginia. Read the
positive review of The New York Times.
Making a Murderer
(2015, 2018). This 10-episode
documentary with a 10-episode second season
released in 2018 (and both available on Netflix Canada),
tells the story of Steven Avery, and his fight
within the Wisconsin judicial system regarding
his wrongful conviction for rape and his fight
with the police officers who put in him jail
(note: this summary is brief to avoid including
spoiler alerts). A compelling story.
(2017). Starring Chadwick Boseman, Josh Gad,
Kate Hudson and directed by Reginald Hudlin.
This drama tells the story of the future
Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall
(played by Chadwick Boseman) as a young NAACP
lawyer in the early 1940's defending a driver
wrongfully convicted of raping his employer
with the assistance of insurance lawyer Sam
Friedman (played by Josh Gad).
Mauritanian (2021). Directed
by Kevin Macdonald. Starring Tahar Rahim,
Jodie Foster, Shailene Woodley, Benedict
Cumberbatch, and Zachary Levi. This drama
tells the true story of of Mohamedou Ould
Slahi, a citizen of Mauritius, held in
captivity in Guantanamo Bay for 14 years
in the First (1995).
Starring Christian Slater, Kevin Bacon and
Gary Oldman. Christian Slater plays a young
lawyer who takes on the case of a prisoner of
Alcatraz who is wrongfully put into solitary
confinement for years and becomes insane as a
result. Strong courtroom (and prison) scenes
Ebert's review (2 of out 4 stars).
Country (2005): For
some reason, I was never a huge fan of
Charlize Theron, but she does a good job in
this story as a mistreated female employee in
a male-dominated workforce in a mine in
Minnesota, based on a true story, that
resulted in the first class action sexual
harassment lawsuit in the United States (the
here has a nice overview of the
real-life lawsuit). Read Roger Ebert's review
On the Basis of Sex
(2018). Starring Felicity Jones, Armie Hammer,
Justin Theroux and directed by Mimi Leder.
This excellent biopic tells the story of
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
including many courtroom scenes involving some
of her early landmark civil rights decisions
she argued as a lawyer. The Rotten Tomatoes rating for
this movie has been hovering around the
75% level. A good company piece to the
documentary about her life (RBG,
(1993). Starring Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington.
Tom Hanks plays a successful lawyer fired by
his law firm because he has AIDS. The only
lawyer willing to act for him in his wrongful
dismissal action against his old firm is an
ambulance-chasing type lawyer played by Denzel
Washington. Well-acted (Hanks got Best Oscar
for his performance) and good courtroom
scenes. Read Roger
Ebert's review (3.5 out of 4 stars).
Prosecuting Evil: The
Extraordinary World of Ben Ferencz
(2018). This documentary recounts the life and
work of Ben Ferencz, the last surviving
prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials and an
inspiration for the entire world.
RBG (2018). Directed and produced
by Betsy West and Julie Cohen. This
documentary, tells the life story of Supreme
Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, including
her early days as a pioneering gender
of Fortune (1990). Starring
Glenn Close, Jeremy Irons and Ron Silver.
Based on the true life story where Harvard Law
Professor Alan Dershowitz agrees to handle the
appeal of the conviction of socialite Claus
von Bulow for the attempted murder of his
wife. Good dramatization of the work done by
Dershowitz and his students in preparing for
the appeal. Read Roger
Ebert's review (4 out of 4 stars).
Directed by Ava DuVernay and starring David
Oyelowo and Carmen Ejogo. This movie tells the
story of the human rights activism of Dr.
Martin Luther King, Jr., and his campaign for
equal voting rights in the American South. It
has a 99% rating on Rotten
Tomatoes. Available here on iTunes.
Directed by Tom McCarthy and starring Mark
Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, John
Slattery, Stanley Tucci, Brian d'Arcy James,
Liev Schreiber, and Billy Crudup. Ostensibly,
this is a movie about investigative journalism
and the efforts of Boston Globe journalists
who reported on the cover-up of child abuse by
the Catholic church in Boston. However,
lawyers play a role as does the role of public
access to court records versus the private
arbitration the church was using to settle
claims. While watching the lawyer played by
Stanley Tucci, I couldn't help but notice that
he had a set of the Dominion Law Reports
behind him on his office bookshelf (which
would be extremely unlikely for a Boston
lawyer), confirming for me (which I confirmed
after seeing the movie) that the movie was
filmed in Toronto (with other scenes shot in
the Bay-Adelaide Centre). The movie has a 97% Rotten Tomatoes
Kill a Mockingbird (1962).
Starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch. A
solid dramatization of Harper Lee's novel
telling the story of Atticus Finch and his
daughter Scout and how Atticus defends a black
man wrongfully charged with rape in a
racially-biased environment. Peck won the Best
Actor Oscar. Read Roger Ebert's review here.
(2020). Directed by Sara Colangelo. Starring
Michael Keaton as Kenneth Feinberg, appointed
Special Master of the September 11th Victim
Compensation Fund and Amy Ryan as Camille
Biros, law partner to Feinberg, appointed as
his administrative deputy. Feinberg is tasked
with difficult job of coordinating payments to
victims of the 9/11 attacks.
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