AND JUSTICE FOR ALL
Al Pacino is Arthur Kirkland. An Attorney who actually believes in the merits of justice the legal system purports to uphold. However, it would seem that those around him namely Judges and fellow lawyers do not share his particular appraisal of the current legal state. The film opens with Kirkland sitting in a cell, as a transvestite is strip searched in front of County Jail inmates who act as though they've been in stir for 10-20 years as opposed to a few hours or days. Kirkland goes to bat for his clients and in this case he threw a punch at the judge who handed down an unjust sentence for his client and also presented him with the gift of a contempt charge for trying to break his jaw. Hence the jail time. As fate would have it, the same judge who sentenced Kirkland to jail and sentenced his client to a considerably longer visit, is now in need of competent counsel himself. It appears that the judge is being charged with the rape, sodomy and brutal beating of a young girl. Realizing that any help provided him within the system would smack of a cover up, the judge takes the politically expedient route and chooses Kirkland as his defense counsel. The sparks definitely begin to fly, as Kirkland has to deal with saving the lives/futures of his clients as well as trying to make the judge he despises smell like a rose. As those around him begin to crumble, Kirkland tries desperately to believe in the system that's creating the chaos that's taken residence in his life. Something has to break and break it does in the film's incredible climax! And Justice for all is a compelling look at law and those who practice it. Both humorous and startling, it's easily one of the best legal dramas to date.
The audio for the film is not at all as great as the film. It's presented in a mono track, which pushes all the aural information through the center channel with no activity in any other speakers. The wonderful jazz laden score as produced and performed by Dave Grusin, suffers greatly because of this. Additionally the resultant hollow and tinny effect involving what little special effects there are proves to be far less than enjoyable. A Director's Commentary is included by Norman Jewison. This is the second commentary I've heard by Jewison, the first being his commentary on Denzel Washington's The Hurricane and I have to admit, I love his work and his commentary tracks! Full of information and his own personal insights. In both instances his commentary is just as good as watching the film with the actual dialogue track running. Per his commentary, this film was the first ever-shot in Baltimore, MD. The scenes in jails and prison where actually shot on location in the actual working prisons in the Baltimore area. In listening to his commentary tracks, you can feel Jewison's excitement and you get the sense that he's enjoying the film as much as the viewer. The visual quality of the film is on par with a very clean first generation VHS copy of the film. Not as clean as a digital image, it bears a myriad of scratches and flecks that should have been removed in the transfer. They are most evident in the opening scenes of the film and appear throughout. The film is presented in widescreen and provides a decent though not perfect viewing experience.
Included on the disc, as extras are two trailers. One for the feature and one for another Pacino effort: Donnie Brasco. Donnie Brasco is presented in a widescreen trailer with 5.1. And Justice For all is presented in full frame and is like the film, mono. The disc also boasts a full frame version of the film however, for the purpose of the review, only the widescreen was reviewed.
Forget about L.A.Law! This is the kind of gritty realism that great cinema is made of. The closest in intensity to this film's portrayal has to be The Practice and Law and Order. Cinematically, Witness for the Prosecution is the benchmark by which all legal dramas are measured IMHO. That being said, And Justice for All stands on it's own as an incredible entry in the coda of legal thrillers and dramas. Pacino is his usual intense and creative self and with a supporting cast of actors like Jack Warden, Dominic Chianesse, John Forsythe and Jeffery Tambor, you have a recipe for success! The only problem I have with the film is the less than thrilling treatment Columbia Tri Star gave the disc. Technical issues aside, this is an incredible story that is executed with precision and skillfully directed. Highly Recommended!