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A to Z List of Law-Related Movies


Movies - Home Page
"A to Z" List of Law-Related Movies
Movies Organized by Substantive Law Subject
Court Martial Movies
Courtroom Dramas
Inspirational Lawyer Movies
Prison-Related Movies
Top 10

12 Angry Men (1957). Starring Henry Fonda and others. Directed by Sidney Lumet. A well done drama that takes place in the jury deliberation room where a jury must decide the fate of a young man accused of murdering his father. The case seems open and shut until the jury begins to deliberate. Read Roger Ebert's 4 out of 4 stars review here. There is also a 1997 remake directed by William Friedkin and starring Jack Lemmon. The Simpsons take on this movie (with Homer being the lone holdout juror) is from Season 5 (The Boy Who Knew Too Much).
12 Years a Slave (2013). Directed by Steve McQueen. This historical drama tells the true story of Solomon Northup (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man who is abducted and sold into slavery until he was eventually able to free himself after twelve years. This movie won Best Picture at the Oscars in 2014. The Faculty Lounge blog has an interesting post discussing court decisions involving slavery.

13th (2016). Directed by Ava DuVernay. This documentary, nominated for best documentary in 2016 by the Academy Awards and by the same film-maker of Selma, takes its title from the 13th Amendment of the US Constitution, which abolished slavery. By focusing on the disproportionate amount of African-Americans (and other people of color) in US jails, the film discusses US history following the abolishment of slavery and the extent to which the exception in the 13th amendment for "punishment for crime" has substituted the initial form of abolished slavery into one that has seen Jim Crow laws, segregation, and mass incarceration as a new form of slavery. The movie has a very high approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, hovering in the 97% range.

56 Up (2012). Directed by Michael Apted. This documentary, which has followed the lives of a group of British students every 7 years, provides an update on the subjects, now at age 56. Three of the students who were part of the original group are lawyers who provide interesting insights on life and societal class. Read Roger Ebert's online review (4 out of 4 stars).

Absence of Malice (1981). Directed by Sydney Pollack and starring Paul Newman and Sally Field. Ostensibly a story about ethical journalism, the story involves issues of newspaper libel and the defence of absence of malice when an investigative reporter (played by Sally Field) publishes potentially defamatory stories about a Florida businessman (play by Paul Newman) who might have shady ties that connects him to the murder of a labour leader. Read the original New York Times review here.

The Accused (1988). Starring: Kelly McGillis, Jody Foster. Courtroom drama involving rape victim Sarah Tobias (played by Jody Foster) who at times seems to be the one on trial. Read Roger Ebert's review (3 stars).

Adam's Rib (1949). Starring: Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn. A courtroom drama/comedy where Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, as husband and wife, are on opposite ends of a criminal prosecution where she defends a women charged with murdering her husband with Spencer Tracy prosecuting the case. Conflict of interest? Read a movie review by Tim Dirks.

All of Me (1984). Starring Steve Martin, Lily Tomlin. A rich but sick millionaire (played by Lily Tomlin) decides to have her soul transferred into the body of a younger women but by mistake her soul ends up in the body of Steve Martin, who plays a lawyer whose body is now partly controlled by Lily Tomlin's character. A very funny movie. Read Roger Ebert's review (3.5 stars).

All the President's Men (1976). Starring Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman. The dramatization of Woodward and Bernstein's journalistic investigations of the Watergate scandal. See U.S. v. Nixon (1974), 418 US 683, for litigation relating to the Watergate scandal. Read Roger Ebert's review (3.5 stars).

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 ends in 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 here.

Anatomy of a Murder (1959). Starring Jimmy Stewart, Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara, directed by Otto Preminger. A courtroom drama involving a murder trial where the accused, a lieutenant in the army, is charged with murdering a bar owner who had raped his wife. Will the defence of temporary insanity prevail? Multiple Academy Award nominations. Read an online review from the New York Times.

And Justice for All (1979). Starring Al Pacino, directed by Norman Jewison (a University of Toronto graduate). Al Pacino defends a judge who is charged with rape, a judge with whom he has had run-ins in the past. A good examination of the justice system, corruption and legal ethics. Read Roger Ebert's review (3 stars).

Anita (2013). Directed and written by Freida Lee Mock. Read Geoff Pevere's review here (from The Globe & Mail). This documentary recounts the story and testimony of Anita Hill regarding her allegations of sexual harassment against then US Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, her then supervisor at the time.

The Attorney (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.

Better Call Saul (series) (2015-current). Created by Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould and starring Bob Odenkirk as lawyer Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman. This multi-season TV drama/prequel to Breaking Bad tells the origin story of Jimmy McGill and his transformation into Saul Goodman. Strong story lines about his relationship with his older, brilliant attorney brother Chuck McGill (played by Michael McKean) and his law partner Kim Wexler (played by Rhea Seehorn). Highly entertaining.

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (2009). Starring Michael Douglas, Jesse Metcalfe, and Amber Tamblyn. An extremely implausible story (and Hollywood remake of a better 1956 version). It tells the story of a journalist who suspects that the publicity-seeking District Attorney (played by Michael Douglas) has too good of a conviction rate and might be causing evidence to be planted at crime scenes. What the journalist does next is stupid (in allowing himself to be framed for murder in order to see if the D.A. will plant evidence against him). Stereotypical courtroom scenes with a "You better be going somewhere counsellor" judge. Read the Rotten Tomatoes reviews here.

Big Boys Gone Bananas! (2011). Directed by Fredrik Gertten. An excellent movie that documents the film-maker's battle with the Dole Company who filed suit to ban the launch of his earlier movie (Banana's!) on the plight of Nicaraguan workers who alleged that the company was using a banned pesticide on its crop that caused sterility.

Billions (2016 to current). Starring Paul Giamatti (as "Chuck Rhoades"), a New York district attorney battling Damian Lewis (as "Bobby Axelrod" or "Ax"), the head of wildly successful hedge fund. Delicious behind-the-scene-dramas in the office of the district attorney. Ax's criminal defence lawyer (brilliantly played by Glenn Fleshler) also has a number of highly interesting scenes.

Billy Budd (1962). Starring Peter Ustinov, Terence Stamp. The story, based on Melville's novel, of Billy Budd, accused of mutiny on the high seas of the murder of the ship's Master-of-Arms. Read the original New York Times review here.

Body Heat (1981): Although not really law-related per se, this drama, directed by Lawrence Kasdan, tells the story of a not very reputable small town lawyer, played by William Hurt, and his affair with a married woman, played by Kathleen Turner, and their plot to murder her husband. Read Roger Ebert's review here.

Body of Evidence (1993). Starring Madonna, Willem Dafoe, Joe Mantegna, Anne Archer, and one of Julianne Moore's earlier movie roles. A fairly implausible story of an accused (play by Madonna) charged with murdering a wealthy old man for his money (through sex). Joe Mantegna plays the prosecutor; Willem Dafoe plays her lawyer. Many stereotypical courtroom scenes. See the original New York Times review here.

Breaker 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.

The Caine Mutiny (1954). Starring Humphrey Bogart, Jose Ferrer, Van Johnson, and Fred MacMurray. Based on the novel by Herman Wouk. This movie tells the story of an alleged mutiny aboard a Navy destroyer—minesweeper in the Pacific in World War II, with Humphrey Bogart playing Captain Queeg. Read the original New York Times review here. Also made into a "made for TV movie" in 1988 directed by Robert Altman and starring Eric Bogosian, Jeff Daniels and Brad Davis.

Cape Fear (1962). Starring Gregory Peck as the small town lawyer whose family is terrorized by a man (played by Robert Mitchum) put into jail on the testimony of the lawyer. A 1991 remake starred Nick Nolte as the lawyer and Robert De Niro as the stalker. Read the Turner Classic Movie review here for the 1962 version and the New York Times review of the 1991 version here. The movie was made into a Simpson's episode called Cape Feare.

Capturing the Friedmans (2003). Directed by Andrew Jarecki. A captivating documentary of a high school teacher, his wife and their three sons and their involvement in the criminal justice system when the father and youngest son are charged with sexual crimes involving children. The movie's tagline – "Who do you believe?" – is reflected in the questions raised by the director regarding the prosecution and defence of the accused. Read Roger Ebert's online review (3.5 out of 4 stars).

The Case Against 8 (2014). Director by Ben Cotner and Ryan White. This documentary tells the story of the fight to overturn California's Proposition 8 and the court battle in Perry v Schwarzenegger.

The 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 Central Park Five (2012). Directed by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon. This documentary tells the stories of five young black men who in 1989 were charged and convicted of a grisly rape in Central Park, New York, despite their claims of innocence based on what were alleged false confessions. Read Roger Ebert's online review (3.5 out of 4 stars).

The Chamber (1996). Starring Chris O'Donnell, Gene Hackman and Faye Dunaway. Based on John Grisham's novel, the story of a young lawyer who defends his racist grandfather who is on death row for murdering two Jewish boys. Read Roger Ebert's review (2 out of 4 stars).

Chicago (2002). This Rob Marshall-directed musical is on the periphery of being considered a law-related movie, but the character of Billy Flynn as a sleazy lawyer, played admirably by Richard Gere, puts it on the edge of falling within my definition (plus I liked it – not too many law-related movies can claim good dancing and music). Read Roger Ebert's review here.

Citizenfour (2014). Directed by Laura Poitras. This documentary, which won the Academy Award for Best Documentary in 2014, tells the story of Edward Snowden and his whistle-blowing of what he regarded as illegal or excessive wiretapping by the NSA. The movie raises issues of privacy, national security, whistle-blowing, and state immunity.

A Civil Action (1998). Starring John Travolta, Robert Duvall. A well told story based on Jonathan Harr's book of a true story involving a class action lawsuit against environmental polluters that involves multiple ups and downs including the potential bankruptcy of the lawyer (played by John Travolta) handling the case. Read Roger Ebert's review (3.5 out of 4 stars).

Class Action (1991). Starring Gene Hackman, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. An unlikely scenario where father and daughter act on opposite sides on a products liability case involving cars that explode. He is the liberal plaintiff's lawyer, representing the underdog, she is a corporate type, acting for the defendant. Read Roger Ebert's review (3 out of 4 stars).

Clemency (2019). Written and directed by Chinonye Chukwu and starring Alfre Woodard as a prison warden and the tolls taken on her in carrying out sentences of death. The film has a Rotten Tomatoes score in the low 90 percent range.

The Client (1994). Starring Susan Sarandon and Tommy Lee Jones. Based on the John Grisham novel, tells the story of a young boy who is a witness to some Mob action and secrets and who therefore seeks out a lawyer to help protect him from the Mob and the FBI. Read Roger Ebert's review (2.5 stars out of 4).

Closed Circuit (2013) Directed by John Crowley and starring Eric Bana (as defence lawyer  Martin Rose) and Jim Broadbent (as the Attorney General of England and Wales). This drama relates to the prosecution of an alleged terrorist bomber in London using the court's "closed material" procedures where trials are partially closed to the public due to national security interests (with a sub-plot of a romance between the defence lawyer and an MI5 agent played by Rebecca Hall). The film has a Rotten Tomatoes score in only the low 40 percent range.

Compulsion (1959): This is one I was surprised I had never seen. Orson Welles stars as a defence lawyer in what IMDB describes as: “Two wealthy law-school students go on trial for murder in this version of the Leopold-Loeb case.” Read the original New York Times review here.

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 son.

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 Innocence Project. Read Roger Ebert's review (3 out of 4 stars).

Counsellor at Law (1933): Since I have not seen this movie, starring John Barrymore as the lawyer, I rely on the IMDB summary, in these terms, to describe the movie: “Successful attorney has his Jewish heritage and poverty-stricken background brought home to him when he learns his wife has been unfaithful.”

Counterfeit Culture (2103). Written and directed by Geoff D'Eon. This Canadian-produced documentary explores knock-off brand goods and their impact on society and culture.

Court Martial of Billy Mitchell (1955). Otto Preminger directs an all-star cast led by Gary Cooper and including Hawaii Five-O notable Jack Lord and Elizabeth Montgomery from Bewitched. Tells the true story of General Billy Mitchell, a Word War I air combat commander who was court-martialed for criticizing those in the military elite for incompetence. Read the original New York Times review here.

A Cry in the Dark (1988). Starring Meryl Streep and Sam Neill. Based on the true story of an Australian mother who is charged for the murder of her daughter despite her claim that a dingo stole her baby from their tent. Read Roger Ebert's review (3 out of 4 stars).

Custody (2016). Starring Viola Davis and Hayden Panettiere, directed by James Lepine. This appears to be a courtroom drama involving child custody, with the judge being played by Viola Davis and the lawyer by Hayden Panettiere. Although it debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival, it is only scheduled for release in March 2017 on the TV network channel Lifetime, according to its Wikipedia entry.

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%.

Dead Man Walking (1995). Starring Susan Sarandon, Sean Penn. A well told story of a nun (played by Susan Sarandon) who visits and cares for a prisoner on death row (played by Sean Penn). The movie raises important questions about the ethics of the death penalty versus the impact of crime on victims and their families and spirituality and forgiveness. Read Roger Ebert's review (4 out of 4 stars).

Defending Your Life (1991). Starring Albert Brooks, Meryl Streep. Only marginally law-related, this comedy is the story of Daniel Miller who, after being killed in a car accident, must "defend" his life before a tribunal in Judgment City, a sort of waiting room for the afterlife. Read Roger Ebert's review (3.5 out of 4 stars).

Denial (2016). Directed by Mick Jackson, written by David Hare. This British courtroom drama tells the true story of American history professor, Deborah Lipstadt (played by Rachel Weisz), sued for libel in the UK by alleged Holocaust denier, David Irving (played by Timothy Spall). Tom Wilkinson and Andrew Scott play the lawyers defending Lipstadt. Although we did not realize it at the time, my wife and I saw the filming of this movie at the Royal Courts of Justice during the week of 18 January 2016 while driving by in the London 19 bus where we saw Timothy Spall being filmed on the courtroom steps. The movie has consistently had a Rotten Tomatoes rating in the 80% range since being released.

The Descendants (2011). Directed by Alexander Payne and starring George Clooney, Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller. This Oscar-nominated movie has George Clooney playing a lawyer in Hawaii who is also the trustee of a family trust owning a large tract of unspoiled ocean-front property. Although the story focuses on his character's relationship with his two daughters while his wife and their mother is hospitalized after a boating accident, there are a number of law-related scenes as Clooney's character must deal with whether to commercialize the property or keep it in its pristine state. Read Roger Ebert's review (4 out of 4 stars).

Devil's Advocate (1997). Starring Al Pacino, Keanu Reeves. A fairly stupid story of Keanu Reeves, as a young, successful lawyer who loses his soul and gets recruited by a major New York law firm headed by the "devilish" Al Pacino. Read Roger Ebert's review (2.5 out of 4 stars).

Disclosure (1994). Directed by Barry Levinson and starring Michael Douglas and Demi Moore. This drama tells the story of a senior employee (played by Michael Douglas) accused of sexual harassment by a co-worker (played by Demi Moore). Read Gene Siskel's negative review here from the Chicago Tribune.

Diva (1981). Only marginally law-related. I decided to include this movie since it was included in a University of Chicago Law School Film Festival, presumably because of the copyright issues raised by bootleg concert tapes. The movie tells the story of a young man who makes a bootleg recording of an elusive opera singer. His tape gets mixed up with a surveillance tape and he is chased through the streets of Paris on his motor-scooter with some of the best chase scenes ever. Very art-filmish in its look and feel. Read Roger Ebert's review.

Divorce Corp (2014). Directed by Joseph Sorge. This documentary discusses the challenges facing litigants in family-related litigation in the US court system.

Eight Men Out (1988). Cast of many, directed by John Sayles. Tells the true story of the 1919 Chicago White Sox players who took bribes to lose the World Series. Involves court room scenes. Read Roger Ebert's review (2 out of 4 stars).

Erin Brockovich (2000). Starring Julia Roberts, Albert Finney. Tells the now well known story of Erin Brockovich, the legal assistant who starts to unearth environmental contamination by a large utility company. Read Roger Ebert's review (2 out of 4 stars).

Evelyn (2002). Starring Pierce Brosnan, Julianna Margulies and Aidan Quinn and directed by Bruce Beresford. Set in Ireland in 1953, this movie tells the story of an unemployed father (played by Brosnan) who loses his children to a Church-run orphanage and his efforts to go to court to get them back. Roger Ebert's review here (3 out of 4 stars).

The Fear of 13 (2015). Directed by David Sington. This documentary tells the story of death row inmate Nick Yarris, who at one point in his incarceration, requests that his death penalty be carried out despite the possibility that he is innocent of the crime he is charged with (no more details provided to avoid spoiler alerts).

A Few Good Men (1992). Starring Jack Nicholson, Tom Cruise, Demi Moore, many others. Tom Cruise plays a Navy lawyer charged with the duty of defending two Marines charged with murder who say they were acting under orders of a colonel (played by Jack Nicholson). Good court room and trial prep scenes. Read Roger Ebert's review (2.5 stars out of 4).

Finders Keepers (2015). Documentary directed by Bryan Carberry and Clay Tweel about John Wood and Shannon Whisnant. This documentary tells the bizarre story of John Wood attempting to recover his amputed leg that was inadvertenly purchased by Shannon Whisnant when he bought a BBQ in which the amputed leg was being stored. Although lawyers and the legal system do not play a dominant role, the movie does raise issues of property law and the maxim "finders keepers." The movie has a 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The Firm (1993). Starring Tom Cruise, Gene Hackman. Based on the John Grisham novel, tells the story of a young lawyer (played by Tom Cruise), recruited by a high-powered firm that has hidden secrets that the young lawyer starts to uncover. Read Roger Ebert's review (3 out of 4 stars).

First Monday in October (1981). Starring Walter Matthau and Jill Clayburgh. A reader of SLAW noticed my list of law-related movies had initially omitted this movie (which I have not yet seen), which stars Jill Clayburgh playing the first female judge on the United States Supreme Court (which, coincidentally, was the same year that Sandra Day O'Connor sat as the first female judge on that Court). According to descriptions, Walter Matthau plays the curmudgeonly Liberal judge on the Court when supposed comedic friction ensues between the two of them. Read Janet Maslin's largely unfavourable 1981 review in The New York Times.

A Fish Called Wanda (1998). Starring John Cleese, Kevin Kline, Eric Idle and Jamie Lee Curtis. A hilarious movie in which John Cleese plays a barrister who gets tangled up with a group of bungling diamond thieves. Extremely funny. Only marginally law related but the funny scenes with Cleese getting caught dancing in the buff are worth it. Read Roger Ebert's review (4 out of 4 stars).

Flash of Genius (2008). Starring Greg Kinnear, Lauren Graham and Alan Alda. A good dramatization of the true life story of professor Robert Kearns who invented the intermittent car windshield wiper but was tied up in years of litigation with Ford to prove his entitlement to royalties. Alan Alda plays the lawyer. Read Roger Ebert's review (3 out of 4 stars).

The Fortune Cookie (1966): It has been years since I saw this movie, directed by Billy Wilder and starring Walter Matthau as an ambulance-chasing lawyer who convinces his brother-in-law, played by Jack Lemmon, a cameraman injured by a football player during a game, to pretend to be injured. Read a review from  The Hollywood Reporter here.

Fracture (2007): I saw this movie when it came out and thought  it was a bit silly. It is a courtroom drama of a young prosecutor, played by Ryan Gosling, prosecuting his last murder case before jumping ship to become a plaintiff’s lawyer. The prosecution is of a wealthy businessman, played by Anthony Hopkins. It seems like an open-and-shut case, but is not. To avoid any spoiler alerts, I won’t say anything more. Read Geoff Pevere's review here.

Freedom Riders (2010). Directed by Stanley Nelson. This is a historical documentary made to mark the 50th anniversary of the "freedom riders" who were civil rights activists who would ride buses and occupy bus terminals to protest discriminatory segregationist laws aimed against African-Americans.

Freeheld (2015). Directed by Peter Sollett and starring Julianne Moore, Ellen Page, and Steve Carell. This drama re-tells the true-life story of a New Jersey female police officer diagnosed with cancer and the fight she and her girlfriend/partner undertake for the partner to be eligible to receive the other's pension. Read the movie review here from The Globe & Mail (2 out of 4 stars).

Gandhi (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 review here.

Ghosts of Mississippi (1996): Rob Reiner directed this courtroom drama, based on a true story of the trial of a white supremacist (played by James Wood) accused of murdering civil rights activist Medgar Evers in 1963. Alec Baldwin plays the prosecutor who brings charges years after the murder with the support of Evers’s spouse, played by Whoopi Goldberg. Read Roger Ebert's review here (2.5 of 4 stars).

Gideon’s Trumpet (1980): This is one I don’t recall seeing. It appears to have been a TV movie starring Henry Fonda playing Clarence Gideon based on the true story of a Florida convict who seeks the right to have counsel appointed. His claim for such a right ended up in a Supreme Court ruling in his favour in Gideon v Wainwright, 372 US 335 (1963).

Give up Tomorrow (2011). Directed by Michael Collins. This documentary tells the story of the criminal prosecution in the Philippines of Paco and six other young men for the alleged rape and murder of two women. It portrays a criminal justice system rife with corruption and injustice. The film has a 100% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Goliath (series) (2016-current) (Prime Video). Created by David E. Kelley and Jonathan Shapiro and starring Billy Bob Thornton as lawyer Billy McBride. Currently available in its second season (with a different storyline in each season), the courtroom drama features a delicious portrayal of a brilliant but slightly sketchy street lawyer who was formerly a partner in a large Los Angeles law firm against whom he does battle in Season 1 in a courtroom trial about corporate coverup by a military defence contractor (with apparently no concern for the concept of conflicts of interest). Highly recommended.

Guilty as Sin (1993). Sidney Lumet directs Starring Rebecca as a female defense attorney defending Don Johnson, accused of murdering his wife. Fairly typically Hollywood portrayal of lawyers and the legal system and the ethical dilemmas facing criminal lawyers. Read Roger Ebert's 3-star review here.

Haiku Tunnel (2001). Written and directed by and starring Josh and Jacob Kornbluth. An "office comedy" set in a San Francisco law firm that tells the travails of a "temp" legal secretary. Read the Variety movie review here.

Hart's War (2002). Stars Bruce Willis, Colin Farrell and Terrence Howard. A military court martial movie set in a POW camp during World War II in Germany, with Bruce Willis as a senior officer in the US army and Colin Farrell, a lawyer and lieutenant, assigned to defend a black officer accused of murder. Ostensibly the movie is more about the actions of Bruce Willis's character and concepts of duty, valour and justice, than pure military justice. Read Roger Ebert's review (3 out of 4 stars).

Hooligan Sparrow (2016). Directed by Nanfu Wang. This documentary tells the story of Ye Haiyan, known as the Hooligan Sparrow, relating to her efforts to expose the alleged abuse of six elementary school girls in China by their principal.

Hot Coffee (2011). Directed by Susan Saladoff. This documentary, based in part on the spilled hot coffee lawsuit in Liebeck v Macdonald's Restaurants, discusses the need for tort reform in the United States.

The 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.

I Am Not Your Negro. Directed by Raoul Peck, narrated by Samuel L Jackson, and based on the James Baldwin unfinished novel, Remember This House. This documentary, as noted on its Wikipedia entry, "explores the history of racism in the United States through Baldwin's reminiscences of civil rights leaders Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr." It was nominated for best documentary in 2016 by the Academy Awards. The movie has a very high approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, hovering the 98% range.

I 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).

I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth vs. Michelle Carter (2019). This two-part documentary, available on HBO, tells the story of then 17-year-old Michelle Carter who was charged with involuntary manslaughter regarding the death by suicide of her friend Conrad Roy who the authorities alleged she encouraged to commit suicide through numerous text message and phone calls.

I Will be Murdered (2013). This documentary, directed by Justin Webster, tells the story of Rodrigo Rosenberg, a Guatemalan lawyer, who predicted his own murder, suggesting by video that if he was found murdered that he was killed by the President. This fascinating film documents a number of conspiracy theory twists and turns.

In Cold Blood (1967). Based on Truman Capote's "fictional" re-telling of a true crime story of two drifters who brutally murder a farm family during a botched robbery. One of the criminals is played by Robert Blake, who himself was later charged (but acquitted) in the murder of his wife. Read Roger Ebert's review here.

In 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 here.

Incident at Oglala (1992). A documentary narrated by Robert Redford and directed by Roger Apted. Tells the story of Leonard Pelletier who was, some say, wrongfully convicted of the murder of two FBI agents on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. Read Roger Ebert's review (3 out of 4 stars).

Inherit the Wind (1960). Starring Spencer Tracy, Frederic March. Loosely based on the true story of the 1925 "Scopes monkey trial" involving the prosecution of a teacher for teaching Darwin's theories of evolution. Read an online review.

The Insult (2017). Directed by Ziad Doueiri. Nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, this Lebanese drama tells the story of an insult by a Lebanese Christian apartment owner of a Palestinian refugee worker fixing the gutter at the apartment building that results in an assault and a subsequent lawsuit that exposes the complicated nature of life and politics in the Middle East. Rotten Tomatoes rates this movie here at 88%.

Intolerable Cruelty (2003). In one of the lesser-known or less popular Coen Brothers' film, George Clooney plays a famous and wealthy divorce lawyer who gets entangled on the other side of divorce proceedings with a wealthy socialite played by Catherine Zeta-Jones. Read Roger Ebert's 2.5 star review here.

Jagged Edge (1985). Starring Glenn Close, Jeff Bridges. A fairly absurd murder mystery / trial movie in which the defence lawyer (played by Close) start to fall in love with her client (played by Bridges), who is accused of murdering his wealthy wife. Read Roger Ebert's review (3.5 out of 4 stars).

JFK (1991). Starring Kevin Costner and a cast of thousands. Director Oliver Stone's recounting of John F. Kennedy's assassination focusing on the efforts of New Orleans D.A. Jim Garrison's attempts to prosecute the real killers of JFK. Some nice courtroom scenes. Read Roger Ebert's review (4 out of 4 stars).

The Judge (2014 film). Starring Robert Duvall as the judge and Robert Downey,Jr as his son, a lawyer who ends up defending his father in court. Despite having these two strong lead actors, the movie was not well-received, in party due to its schmaltzy story line. Not necessarily recommended.

Judgment at Nuremberg (1961). Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster. A strong dramatization of the Nazi war crime trials. Maximilian Schell won the Oscar for his portrayal of the defence lawyer. Read the original Variety movie review here.

The Juror (1996). Starring Demi Moore, Alec Baldwin. A fairly stupid movie in which a juror, played by Moore, is put under pressure by the Alec Baldwin character to acquit the accused, a Mafiosi, or else her son will come into harm's way. A strong performance by James Gandolfini (who plays Tony Soprano on The Sopranos). Read Roger Ebert's review (2 out of 4 stars).

Jury Duty (1995). Okay. I seriously debated whether to include a Pauly Shore movie and may regret its inclusion. However, the cast includes Stanley Tucci. The story, if it matters, is the comedic notion - stretched for 86 minutes - that the Pauly Shore character realizes it is in his interest as a jury member on a criminal trial to stretch the duration of the trial to continue to earn his "per diem" stipend. Janet Maslin's original New York Times review pretty much sums it up with this comment: "If you have odd socks that need matching, you've got something better to do than watching Jury Duty."

Just Cause (1995). Starring Sean Connery, Laurence Fishburne. The story of a young man accused of murder and facing the electric chair. Can Law Professor Paul Armstrong (played by Sean Connery) save his client? Read Roger Ebert's review (2 out of 4 stars).

Just Mercy (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.

Kids for Cash (2013). Directed by Robert May. This documentary tells the story of the "kids for cash scandal" involving private juvenile jails and allegations against two judges who were alleged to have received payments from these private facilities for sentencing young offenders to those institutions.

Kramer vs. Kramer (1979). Starring Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep. A well-told child custody case in which the characters played by the two lead actors are involved in emotional litigation over who will get custody of their young son. The movie cleaned up at the Academy Awards. Read Roger Ebert's 4 of 4 stars review here.

The Laundromat (2019). Directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring Gary Oldman (playing lawyer Jürgen Mossack) and Antonio Banderas (playing lawyer Ramón Fonseca). This drama, available on Netflix, tells the story of the law firm Mossack Fonseca, caught up in the Panama Papers scandal. This story, about money-laundering and Panamanian shell companies, is narrated by the actors playing the two main lawyers and tells, among other things, the story of a character played by Meryl Streep who investigates why her insurance company refuses to pay a claim for the wrongful death of her husband. The film has a Rotten Tomatoes score in only the low 40 percent range.

Legal Eagles (1986). Starring Robert Redford, Debra Winger and Darryl Hannah. A prosecutor (played by Redford) starts to fall for a defence lawyer (played by Winger) and gets involved with her defence of an off-the-wall performance artist (planned by Hannah). Read the original New York Times review here.

Legally Blonde (2001). Starring Reese Witherspoon, Luke Wilson. A fairly light comedy about a sorority girl (played by Witherspoon) who applies to Harvard Law School in order to "show up" her ex-boyfriend, also accepted at Harvard. She soon discovers her pre-law skills serve her well in defending a client charged with murder. Some fairly preposterous court scenes, but this is a comedy after all, not a documentary. Good for a few laughs if you are willing to ignore rules of evidence and civil procedure. Read the original New York Times review here.

Let Him Have It (1991). Based on a true story in the early 1950's in England where two young men are tried for and found guilty of the murder of a policeman. One of the young men avoids the death penalty because of his age but the other is hanged, despite his having the mental capacity of a young child. Gripping courtroom scenes (based on actual transcripts). An excellent movie. Read Roger Ebert's review (3.5 out of 4 stars).

Leviathan (2014). This award-winning Russian film tells the story of a Russian man and his wife whose house and property is targeted by a small-town, corrupt Russian Mayor seeking to illegally expropriate the couple's property. All of the characters are quite flawed, including the Moscow lawyer, a friend of the couple, who represents them in fighting back against the mayor.

Liar, Liar (1997). Starring Jim Carrey. A young boys wish that his father not be able to lie for 24 hours comes true but haunts his father (played by Carrey), a lawyer whose court appearances require him to "bend the truth" on behalf of his client. Some fairly funny courtroom scenes involving Carrey. Read Roger Ebert's review (3 out of 4 stars).

Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972). Starring Paul Newman, directed by John Huston. A humorous movie in which Newman plays an unlikely symbol of justice in the Old West as Judge Roy Bean whose judicial decision-making is often based on "six shooter" justice. Read the original New York Times review here.

Logorama (2009). Winner of the 2009 Oscar for Best Animated Short Film. A brilliant take on American society and consumerism with a Quentin Tarentinoesque take of two Los Angeles police officers (in the form of Bibendum, the Michelin Man) who track a foul-mouthed, gun-toting Ronald McDonald who has taken Big Boy hostage. Included for its clever use of the trademark parody defense (see my post here on this movie and its implications for trademark parody). Read a short review here from

Long Shot (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. Essential viewing.

Loving (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.

The Loving Story (2011). Directed by Nancy Buirski. This documentary discusses the ground-breaking decision in Loving v Virginia (1967), 388 US 1, that struck down as discriminatory laws prohibiting inter-racial marriage. Read the review here from The Washington Post.

M (1931). Directed by Fritz Lang. Tells the story of a child murderer in Germany and the police hunt to track him down, resulting in a “staged” trial used to force a confession from the accused and obtain a conviction, making the point of the importance of legal representation in criminal trials to ensure justice, even for the most abhorrent crimes.

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.

A Man for All Seasons (1966). Based on the play by Robert Bolt, this classic movie stars Paul Scofield as Sir Thomas More, and tells the story of the Chancellor of England’s opposition to King Henry VIII’s attempts to divorce Catherine of Aragon to marry Anne Boleyn. Read the original New York Times review here.

Marriage Story (2019). Written, directed and produced by Noah Baumbach and starring Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson (playing husband and wife undergoing a divorce) and Alan Alda and Laura Dern (playing their respective divorce lawyers). This drama, available on Netflix after a limited theatrical release, tells the fictional story of a theatre director in New York (played by Driver) and his actress wife (played by Johansson) and shows the tension in their relationship when their marriage breaks down and they hire lawyers to handle custody and property issues. The film has a Rotten Tomatoes score in the range of 95% and is highly recommended for the portrayal of the lawyers by Alda and Dern and compares favorably to Kramer v. Kramer, another divorce story that won the Academy Award for Best Picture thirty years prior.

Marshall (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).

The 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 without charge.

Michael Clayton (2007). Starring George Clooney, Tilda Swinton and Tom Wilkinson. This movie tells the story of lawyer Michael Clayton, played by Clooney, who is described as the law firm's "fixer" or "janitor," cleaning up the "messes" of the firm or its clients. In this case, it is a large corporate client sued for environmental pollution (Swinton is superb as the in-house general counsel), represented by a lawyer (played by Wilkinson) from the firm who suffers a nervous breakdown, thereby jeopardizing the client's defence. Read Roger Ebert's review (4 out of 4 stars).

Miracle on 34th Street (1994). Starring Richard Attenborough as Kris Kringle. This modern remake of the 1934 "classic" recounts the story of a young girl who questions the existence of Santa Clause. When the Macy's Santa Clause, who claims to be the real Kris Kringle, is institutionalized, he is defended in court by the boyfriend of the young girl's mother who tries to prove his client is not insane. Read Roger Ebert's review (3 out of 4 stars).

Misconduct (2016). Starring Josh Duhamel, Anthony Hopkins, Al Pacino. This drama appears to involve a pharmaceutical executive caught up in blackmail and a class action lawsuit, as per its Wikipedia entry. I say "appears" since I have not yet seen it, and although it is on Netflix Canada, (after what appeared to be a very limited theatrical release), it hovers only in the 7% approval rating range on Rotten Tomatoes so I will eventually try to watch it.

Murder 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 Read Roger Ebert's review (2 of out 4 stars).

Music Box (1989): I remember seeing this movie as a young lawyer being bothered by the improbability or inappropriateness of a daughter representing her father against charges of war crimes. That said, Jessica Lange plays the daughter/lawyer, with Armin Mueller-Stahl playing her father, a Hungarian immigrant, accused with war crimes based on recently released documents. Read Roger Ebert's review here.

My Cousin Vinny (1992). Starring Joe Pesci, Marisa Tomei (and Fred Gwynne as the Judge). A funny courtroom drama in which a bumbling and newly-called New York lawyer (played by Pesci) is asked by his nephew and his nephew's friend to save them from wrongful murder charges in a "redneck" Alabama court system. Lots of good laughs as the Pesci character brings his "northern" street smarts to the South. Read Roger Ebert's review (2.5 out of 4 stars).

Norma Rae (1979). Directed by Martin Ritt and starring Sally Field, Beau Bridges, and Ron Leibman. This drama, based on a true story, tells the story of a textile worker (played by Sally Field, who won the best actress Oscar for her role), who rallies her co-workers into unionizing. Read Vincent Canby's review here in The New York Times.

North 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 Wikipedia entry here has a nice overview of the real-life lawsuit). Read Roger Ebert's review here.

OJ: Made in America (2016). Directed by Ezra Edelman. This documentary, which runs close to 8 hours long, recounts the well-documented OJ Simpson trial by putting the trial into the context of race relations and police-citizen interactions in Los Angeles in light of the Rodney King beating and other events. The documentary has a Rotten Tomatoes rating in the high 90% range.

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, discussed below).

Other People's Money (1991). Directed by Norman Jewison and starring Danny DeVito as a corporate raider and Gregory Peck as the patriarch of the company targeted by Danny DeVito. Penelope Ann Miller plays a lawyer, the daughter of the wife of Gregory Peck, who tangles with Danny DeVito's character regarding ownership and survival of the company. See Roger Ebert's 3.5 star review here.

The Paper Chase (1973). Starring Timothy Bottoms, Lindsay "The Bionic Woman" Wagner and John Houseman as Professor Kingsfield. The now classic "must see" movie for law students about the struggles of a first-year law student and the battles he faces with his contracts professor (especially after he finds out he has been dating his daughter). Now somewhat dated, it is still a lot of fun to watch. Note the scenes with the law librarian. Parts of the movie were filmed in Toronto. Houseman won the Academy Award for his performance. Read the original New York Times review here.

Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996). A documentary by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky about the prosecution of 3 teenagers in Arkansas for the brutal murder of 3 young boys. The movie raises doubts about the guilt of the accused and the criminal justice system in general. Read the original New York Times review here.

Paradise Lost 2: The Revelations (2001). A follow-up documentary to the 1996 film (immediately above) that follows the appeals of the three accused. Read Roger Ebert's 3 star review here.

Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (2011). Directed by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky. The third and final documentary in this alleged wrongful conviction of the West Memphis Three that documents a more recent appeal based on new DNA evidence and other facts not previously available. Read Roger Ebert's online review (3.5 out of 4 stars).

Paths of Glory (1957). This Stanley Kubrick film stars Kirk Douglas as a colonel serving in the French Army in World War I who, as a defense lawyer prior to the war, defends three of his men unfairly charged with cowardice in the face of the enemy regarding the refusal of the troops to proceed against enemy gunfire in what would have been a suicide mission for all concerned. Read Roger Ebert's review here.

The Pelican Brief (1993). Starring Denzel Washington, Julia Roberts. Another reasonably entertaining movie based on one of John Grisham's novels. Tells the story of a law student (played by Roberts) who inadvertently is drawn into a conspiracy involving the assassination of two Supreme Court justices. Denzel Washington plays the journalist who investigates her story and helps her out. Read Roger Ebert's review (3 out of 4 stars).

People vs. Larry Flynt (1996). Starring Woody Harrelson, Courtney Love and Edward Norton as the lawyer. Directed by Milos Forman. A bio-pic that tells the story of Hustler founder Larry Flynt and his "battle" to defend his freedom of expression (to publish men's magazines and to parody public figures). Some nice courtroom scenes and discussions of the issue of freedom of expression. Some viewers may find other content objectionable. Read Roger Ebert's review (4 out of 4 stars).

Percy (2002). Directed by Clark Johnson. Starring Christoper Walken, Christina Ricci, and Zach Braff. This drama stars Christopher Walken as farmer Percy Schmeiser in his battle against Monsanto against the ownership of seeds that culminated in the Supreme Court of Canada decision in Monsanto Canada Inc v Schmeiser, [2004] 1 SCR 902. For a documentary about this saga, see the entry immediately below.

Percy Schmeiser: David versus Monsanto (2009). Directed by Bertram Verhaag. This documentary tells the story of Saskatchewan farmer Percy Schmeiser and his wife Louise who were accused by Monsato of infringing their patent for genetically-modified canola seed that had drifted onto thr Scheiser farm, resulting in litigation that ultimately culminated in the Supreme Court of Canada decision in Monsanto Canada Inc v Schmeiser, [2004] 1 SCR 902.

Philadelphia (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).

Portrait of Wally (2012). Directed by Andrew Shea. This documentary tells the story of a painting (entitled "Portrait of Wally") by Austrian painter Egon Schiele that was stolen by Nazis during their occupation of Austria from its owner, Lea Bondi Jaray, a Jewish art gallery owner. The movie raises legal and moral issues surrounding art ownership as a court battle ensues between the Austrian art dealer who acquired the painting after the war and the heirs of its original owners. Read a review of the film here from the Hollywood Reporter.

Presumed Innocent (1990). Stars Harrison Ford, Brian Dennehy. Based on the novel by Scott Turow, Harrison Ford plays the character of D.A. Rusty Sabich, who finds himself accused of the murder of his former girlfriend. A well-told, gripping drama. Read Roger Ebert's review (3.5 out of 4 stars).

Primal Fear (1996). Stars Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Edward Norton. Richard Gere plays a high-powered lawyer who takes on a case to defend a young man (played by Norton) who is charged with the murder of a Catholic priest. The case is not straightforward and twists abound. 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.

Puncture (2011). Stars Chris Evans, Mark Kassan, and Vanessa Shaw. A dramatization of a true story of lawyer Michael Weiss and his partner Paul Danziger who represent a nurse accidentally punctured by a needle despite the availability of a safety syringe that hospital and government authorities refused to adopt due to its higher costs. Read Roger Ebert's review (3 out of 4 stars).

Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002). Directed by Phillip Noyce and stars Kenneth Branagh. Based on the true story of 3 aboriginal girls ("half-castes") taken from their Aboriginal mothers and placed in a government residential school to be "domesticated". The movie documents their attempts to return to their families across the Outback, following a rabbit-proof fence. Read Roger Ebert's review (3.5 out of 4 stars).

The Rainmaker (1997). Starring Matt Damon and Danny DeVito. A dramatization of the John Grisham novel that tells the story of a young lawyer (played by Damon) who teams up with a grizzled veteran (played by DeVito) to take a case against an insurance company that is denying medical coverage for a dying boy. Read Roger Ebert's review (3 out of 4 stars).

Rake (series) (2010-2018). Starring Richard Roxburgh. This hilarious drama/comedy follows the career of Sydney barrister Cleaver Greene (played by Richard Roxburgh) in court with senile judges and interfering politicians. Extremely funny with many interesting legal issues for his clients. Available on Netflix Canada.

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 discrimination lawyer.

The Reader (2008). Directed by Stephen Daldry and starring Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes. This historical drama recounts a war crimes trial stemming from the role of the character Hanna Schmitz, an SS guard (played by Kate Winslet who won the best actress Oscar for her role). Read Roger Ebert's review here (3.5/4 stars).

Red Corner (1997). Richard Gere stars as an American television executive in China who ends up being charged with the murder of a Chinese girl he meets in the bar the night before, Bai Ling plays his defence lawyer with the movie focusing on the "challenges" within the Chinese criminal legal system. Roger Ebert, who was not a fan of this movie, describes it in part as "a xenophobic travelogue crossed with Perry Mason." Read his 2 star review here.

Regarding Henry (1991). Starring Harrison Ford, Annette Bening. The story of a lawyer (played by Ford) whose life is shattered after he survives a shooting but loses his memory. His struggle to regain his life and reconcile himself to his former career make for a relatively interesting drama. Read Roger Ebert's review (2 out of 4 stars).

Reversal 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).

Roman J. Israel, Esq. (2017). Starring Denzel Washington & Colin Farrell. Written and directed by Dan Gilroy. This lawyer drama brought Denzel Washington an Oscar nomination for Best Actor (won that year by Gary Goldman for his performance of Winston Churchill). The titular lawyer is in a two-person law firm in Los Angeles where his skills are more towards research and writing regarding his belief the plea bargaining system is unjust. Circumstances cause him to come to work at a large law firm under the guidance of a lawyer played by Colin Farrell where the main character is placed in difficult circumstances that test his conscience. Read the review here by David Edelstein in Vulture

Rules of Engagement (2000). Starring Tommy Lee Jones, Samuel L. Jackson. A court-martial drama in which a lawyer/military man (played by Tommy Lee Jones) agrees to defend his colleague (played by Jackson) who is charged of breach of duty for a botched embassy rescue mission. At issue in the trial are the "rules of engagement" and the pressures that soldiers face when under enemy fire. Read Roger Ebert's review (2.5 out of 4 stars).

Runaway Jury (2003). Starring John Cusack, Rachel Weisz, Dustin Hoffman, and Gene Hackman. A good dramatization of the John Grisham novel about a jury trial with Dustin Hoffman playing the plaintiff's lawyer suing a gun manufacturer and Gene Hackman playing a jury consultant. On the jury are two jurors (played by John Cusack and Rachel Weisz) who play a key role in the trial. Read Roger Ebert's 3-star review.

The Secret in Their Eyes (El secreto de sus ojos) (2009). An Argentinian film directed by Juan José Campanella that wo.n the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2009. It is best described as a crime thriller telling the story of a retired criminal investigator who reunites with a women, now a judge, 25 years after they were both involved in the investigation of a brutal rape and murder. Read Roger Ebert's 4 star review here.

Secretary (2002). Starring James Spader and Maggie Gyllenhaal. James Spader plays a lawyer. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays a secretary. The movie tells the story of their sadomasochistic relationship. Read Roger Ebert's 3 star review here.

Selma (2015). 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.

A Separation (2011). Starring Payman Maadi, Leila Hatami, and Sareh Bayat. An excellent insight into a fictional account of a couple's divorce in Iran and an encounter with a legal system ruled by Islamic law. Read Roger Ebert's review (4 out of 4 stars).

The Shawshank Redemption (1994). Starring Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman. A prison drama telling the story of Andy Dufresne (played by Robbins) who is sentenced to jail in the 1940's for the murder of his wife and her lover. He develops a unique friendship with a prisoner named "Red" (played by Morgan Freeman) as the two men pass their lives, seeking for meaning, in a drab, dreary prison environment. Read Roger Ebert's review (3.5 out of 4 stars).

Shepherds and Butchers (2016).  Directed by Oliver Schmitz and starring Steve Coogan playing a British-born lawyer defending a young white prison guard in South Africa charged with the murder of seven unarmed black men during the dying days of Apartheid. The movie does not appear to be easily available in Canada (I have not seen it).

Shrek Forever After (2010). In Shrek and the Law of Contract, Dr Eoin O’Dell neatly describes the contractual theories that apply to this tale of Shrek's Faustian bargain with the evil Rumpelstiltskin, as described in the IMDB summary, "to get back to feeling like a real ogre again, but when he's duped and sent to a twisted version of Far Far Away — where Rumpelstiltskin is king, ogres are hunted, and he and Fiona have never met  —  he sets out to restore his world and reclaim his true love."

Silkwood (1983). Starring Cher, Meryl Streep. Arguably not a law-related movie in the "lawyer" sense but it is a good movie about law-related themes, including unionization of employees and "whistleblowing". Based on a true story of contamination at a nuclear plant. Strong performances by Cher and Meryl Streep. Read Roger Ebert's review (4 stars).

The Social Network (2010). Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield and Justin Timberlake and directed by David Fincher with a screenplay by Aaron Sorkin. This dramatization of the early days in the history of Facebook is told largely through flashbacks from examination for discovery transcripts related to lawsuits between the founders of Facebook, including Mark Zuckerberg (played by Jesse Eisenberg). Aside from the litigation issues itself, there are stories of legal intrigue relating to private equity investment and the role played by Sean Parker of Napster fame (played by Justin Timberlake). issues of intellectual property, and issues of privacy law.

A Soldier's Story (1984). Directed by Canadian Norman Jewison and starring Howard Rollins, Adolph Caesar, Robert Townsend and, in one of his earlier roles, Denzel Washington. Although the movie is a military criminal investigation, I have included it here (and under "Court Martial movies, even though it is not really a court martial movie). The movie, set in a military barracks in Arkansas during World War II, tells the story of a black Sergeant (played by Adolph Caesar) killed one evening outside of the base and the black Captain (Howard Rollins) put in charge of the investigation. Read the original New York Times review here.

Spotlight (2015). 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 rating.

The Star Chamber (1983). Starring Michael Douglas, Hal Holbrook. A fairly ridiculous story about a group of vigilante judges who secretly meet to pass "sentences" on criminals who have unfairly beaten the judicial system. Read the original New York Times review here.

The Story of Qiu Ju (1992). Directed by Zhang Yimou and starring Gong Li. This movie tells the story of Qiu Ju, a peasant woman who fights the Chinese bureaucracy at pursuing justice for injuries caused to her husband by the village chief. The film won the Golden Lion at the 1992 Venice Film Festival. Read Roger Ebert's review here (3.5 of 4 stars). 

Succession (2018 to current). This drama series involves a fictional corporate media empire run by family patriarch Logan Roy (played by Brian Cox) and the role his children will play if and when he retires (hence the title of the series). Many scenes relate to corporate intrigue involving potential takeovers with good scenes involving the company's in-house corporate counsel (played by J. Smith-Cameron).

Suits (2011 to current). This television series tells the tales of a fictional New York law firm and stars a cast that has changed over time that at one point included Megan Markle and now includes Katherine Heigl.

Suspect (1987). Starring Cher, Dennis Quaid and others. Cher plays a public defender who takes on the case of a homeless man charged with the murder of a legal secretary. Dennis Quaid is on the jury and thinks the accused likely did not commit the crime and sets out, along with Cher, to find out who committed the murder. Fairly preposterous but entertaining if you suspend your disbelief. Read Roger Ebert's 2.5 of 4 stars review here.

Sweet Country (2017). Starring Hamilton Morris, Sam Neill, Bryan Brown as Sergeant Fletcher. This movie tells the story of Sam Kelly, an aboriginal farmer (played by Hamilton Morris), who is charged with murder of a white war veteran when acting in self-defence to an attack by the war veteran. Includes an interesting outdoor courtroom scene and raises serious questions about justice for aboriginal people. Read the review here from Variety.

The Sweet Hereafter (1997). An Atom Egoyan film starring Ian Holm as a class action lawyer who investigates a school bus crash in a small Canadian town that killed 14 students. Although ostensibly a "class action" movie, Roger Ebert correctly characterizes the movie as a study on how people handle grief: "This story is not about lawyers or the law, not about small-town insularity, not about revenge (although that motivates an unexpected turning point). It is more about the living dead--about people carrying on their lives after hope and meaning have gone. The film is so sad, so tender toward its characters. The lawyer, an outsider who might at first seem like the source of more trouble, comes across more like a witness, who regards the stricken parents and sees his own approaching loss of a daughter in their eyes." Read his 4 star review here.

Terms and Conditions May Apply (2013). Directed by Cullen Hoback. This documentary discusses the use of online "click" agreements regarding user's privacy and other contractual rights.

The Thin Blue Line (1988). Documentary, directed by Errol Morris. A gripping documentary of the tale of two men involved in the murder of a police officer in Texas where one of the men ends up on Death Row for the murder when, in retrospect, it appears he may have been railroaded for the crime. Read Roger Ebert's review (3.5 out of 4 stars).

The Third Murder (2017). Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda. Starring Masaharu Fukuyama and Kōji Yakusho. A tense courtroom drama involving a criminal defence lawyer defending a client who has confessed to a murder where the defence lawyer begins to doubt his client's guilt, despite the client's previous convictions for murder.

A Time to Kill (1996). Starring Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Bullock, Samuel L. Jackson, Kevin Spacey. Another of several movies based on a John Grisham novel. This one tells the story of a young lawyer (played by McConaughey) who takes on a case in the South defending a black man who is charged with killing the two white men who raped his daughter. Standard Grisham fare, well-acted and relatively entertaining as a courtroom drama. Read Roger Ebert's review (3 out of 4 stars).

To 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.

Town Without Pity (1961). Kirk Douglas plays a military lawyer assigned to defend 4 American soldiers in Germany charged with the rape of a young German girl. The central tension arises when the lawyer must resolve his guilt in deciding whether he needs to destroy the victim's alleged promiscuous reputation contrasted against his duty to protect his clients from the death penalty. Read the New York Times review here.

The Trial (1963). Starring Anthony Perkins. Directed by Orson Welles. Based on the classic novel by Franz Kafka, it tells the nightmarish story of Josef K who is arrested one morning and put on trial despite never really knowing what the charges are. A must view (or read) for any law student. Read Roger Ebert's 4 out of 4 stars review here.

Trial and Error (1997). A fairly silly comedy in which Michael Richards, who plays an actor, agrees to step in and "act" in place of his friend, a lawyer played by Jeff Daniels, who is sick/hungover and cannot appear in court. Hilarity ensues since, as can be imagined, the Michael Richards character of course knows nothing of trial procedure or the law. Roger Ebert's 3 star review is here.

Trial By Jury (1994). British actress Joanne Whalley-Kilmer plays a single mother/store owner who sits on a jury for a criminal trial of a mob boss played by Armand Assante. The tension arises when the mob boss threatens to kill her son unless she votes to acquit. Much drama and suspense ensues. Read the original New York Times review here.

The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020). Written and directed by Aaron Sorkin. Starring an ensemble cast including Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman and Mark Rylance as William Kunstler, defense counsel. This drama tells the story of The Chicago Seven who were charged in relation to their anti-Vietnam War protests during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

True Grit (2010). Although perhaps more correctly thought of as a Western than a law-related movie, I have included the Coen Brothers version of this movie for the many law-related references made by the young girl Mattie Ross (played by Hailee Steinfeld) in pursuit of the killer of her father, aided in her efforts by Marshall Rooster Cogburn (played by Jeff Bridges) and Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (played by Matt Damon). An excellent movie on a tale of justice with an entertaining scene early on of a criminal trial during which the character played by Jeff Bridges gives testimony on his role in capturing and shooting a gang of criminals.

Two Weeks' Notice (2002). A fairly silly romantic comedy / drama in which Sandra Bullock, as a Harvard law-trained lawyer and environmental protester ends up working as in-house counsel for a real estate developer played by Hugh Grant who hires Bullock's character on the promise to not demolish several local landmarks. Hugh Grant turns out to be a difficult boss causing Bullock to quit, giving her "two weeks' notice" after which time Hugh Grant's character only realizes how important she was in his life. Roger Ebert gave the film a generous 3 star review.

An Unreal Dream: The Michael Morton Story (2013). Directed by Al Reinert and John Dean. This award-winning documentary tells the true-life story of Michael Morton's struggle to prove his innocence in the murder of his wife through the use of DNA evidence and the help of his lawyers, John Raley (of Texas) and Nina Morrison (of the Innocence Project). Read the Variety review here.

The Verdict (1982). Starring Paul Newman, James Mason. Directed by Sidney Lumet. A good courtroom drama involving Paul Newman as a down-and-out lawyer who is forced to "crash" funerals and wakes looking to drum up business. When he takes a medical malpractice case on a contingency basis, he encounters a strong defence from the defendant. Make sure to yell "objection" in a loud voice during some of the courtroom scenes where rules of civil procedure are ignored in favour of dramatic tension. Read Roger Ebert's 4 star review here.

Very Bad Things (1998). Stars Jon Favreau, Christian Slater, Daniel Stern and Cameron Diaz. Note: This movie may be offensive for some viewers. Not for all tastes, this "dark humour" movie follows a group of friends on a bachelor party to Las Vegas when something goes horribly wrong. Issues of criminal law abound (mens rea, actus reus, criminal conspiracy). Read Roger Ebert's online review (1 out of 4 stars).

The War of the Roses (1989). Starring Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner and Danny DeVito as the lawyer. Filmed in Toronto, the movie producers rented law books from the Bora Laskin Law Library to use in the scenes in the lawyer's office. The movie purportedly is a fictional story based on the life of Martha Stewart's messy divorce. Funny scenes throughout. Read Roger Ebert's review (3 out of 4 stars).

Weiner (2016). Directed by Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg. Although this documentary, about Anthony Weiner, is more about political science than law, it is included here because of its insider look into the political process and the fall of a politician.

West of Memphis (2012). Directed by Amy Berg. Like the Paradise Lost documentaries discussed above, this film documents the ordeal of the West Memphis Three. Read Roger Ebert's online review (4 out of 4 stars).

Where’s My Roy Cohn? (2019). Directed by Matt Tyrnauer. This documentary profiles controversial lawyer Roy Cohn, known most famously for representing Joseph McCarthy and Donald Trump. The film has a Rotten Tomatoes score in the range of 85%.

The Whole Truth (2016). Starring Keanu Reeves as a defense lawyer and Renée Zellweger as the mother of a teenage accused of his his wealthy father (note: as of November 2016 I have not yet seen this movie, although Rotten Tomatoes suggests this movie is only the 30% range of approval, with The New York Times critic suggesting this movie "plays like an especially claustrophobic courtroom procedural, drably photographed and generically framed").

Whose Life Is It Anyway? (1981). John Badham directs Richard Dreyfuss who plays an artist paralyzed in a car accident. The movie, based on a play, raises issues of euthanasia and the right of a patient to die and the role of the government or doctors in prolonging life. Actor Bob Balaban plays the lawyer who represents the main character who seeks to be discharged from the hospital where he is being kept alive. Read Janet Maslin's original New York Times review here.

Wild Things (1998). Starring Matt Dillon, Kevin Bacon, Neve Campbell, Denise Richards and Bill Murray as the lawyer. Only marginally law-related, the movie has some hilarious scenes with a lawyer played by Bill Murray. There are so many twists in this movie, you will be kept on edge. Thoroughly entertaining but perhaps not for all tastes. Read Roger Ebert's review (3 out of 4 stars).

Win Win (2011). Starring Paul Giamatti as small-town lawyer Mike Flaherty, a volunteer high school wrestling coach whose practice is struggling. Although arguably following outside the scope of my definition of law-related movies, the story and acting are fresh and presents the struggles of a solo practitioner while avoiding stereotypes of lawyers (for the most part). There is a law-related ethical dilemma the character is forced to face as he grapples with family duties and mentoring a young student wrestler. Great supporting performances by Amy Ryan as his wife, and by Jeffrey Tambor and Bobby Cannavale as his friends. Read Roger Ebert's 3-star review here.

The Winslow Boy (1999): For some reason, I never saw this David Mamet-directed movie, based on the play by Terence Rattigan that loosely tells the story of George Archer-Shee, a British naval cadet accused of stealing a postal order in 1910. In the movie – as in real life – the family defends the honour of the young lad who is eventually exonerated. However, in what was a first of its kind, the family then goes on to petition the U.K. Parliament for compensation for the wrongful prosecution. Read Roger Ebert's review here.

The Witness (2016). Directed by James Solomon. This documentary follows William Genovese, the brother of Kitty Genovese, as he seeks to better understand his sister's death in Queen's, New York, in 1964, a crime made famous by so-called "bystander apathy" where it was alleged over 30 persons witnessed or heard the crime being committed but failed to get involved. It has a Rotten Tomatoes rating in the 90% range.

Witness for the Prosecution (1957). Starring Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich and Charles Laughton. Based on the novel by Agatha Christie, Charles Laughton plays the lawyer defending Leonard Vole, charged with the murder of a rich, middle-aged widow. The problem, however, is that the accused's alibi rests with his wife, who has decided to be a witness for the prosecution. Read the original New York Times review here.

Worth (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.

The Wrong Man (1956). Directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Henry Fonda and Vera Miles. This drama tells the story of a man (played by Henry Fonda) wrongfully prosecuted for robbery. Read the review here from 1956 from The New York Times. 

Young Mr. Lincoln (1939): John Ford directs Henry Fonda as the young Abraham Lincoln in his early career as a lawyer, telling the tale of his defence of two men charged with murder. Read the original New York Times review here.

The Young Philadelphians (1959): We of course have seen Paul Newman as a “veteran” lawyer in The Verdict. Here he plays a young, rising lawyer in Philadelphia. This is another “older” movie I have not seen. From the plot summary from the Wikipedia entry, it seems like quite a soap opera, with lots of marital infidelities and social/class status with Newman rising through the ranks in his law firm, ultimately defending a friend on a murder charge.  Read the original New York Times review here.

Z (1969). This Greek crime thriller dealing with the assassination of a liberal political leader in the era of a military dictatorship won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1969 and stars Yves Montand, Irene Papas and Jean-Louis Trintignant. The Wikipedia entry (here - I have yet to see the movie) recounts a corrupt legal system and the cover-up of a fatal car accident where witnesses disappear and the prosecutor is removed from the case, among other interferences with justice. Read Roger Ebert's 4 star review here.

Last updated: January 2024   |    Legal / Terms of Use    |    Ted Tjaden © 2010-2024


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Legal Research and Writing:
4th Edition

by Ted Tjaden

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Published: January 2016
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