Jerry Springer couldn't act his way out of a paper bag. Which is ironic because you'd think he would have been perfect for the role that he played in Citizen Verdict. The 2003 film directed by Philippe Martinez is all about reality-trash TV gone wrong and raises a lot of social, moral and political issues.
The basic idea behind the film is that with the popularity of reality television and the drama that you see on Court TV, why hasn't somebody combined the two? The show itself is entitled Citizen Verdict and is a three hour court room brawl in which a man's life hangs in the balance. The kicker is that much like American Idol, the audience gets to call in and vote if the defendant is guilty or not. Whether a person lives or dies is based on the American public instead of a group of jurors. Of course you can't believe everything that you see on TV so the line between what is reality and what is fabricated becomes blurred for the sake of better ratings and more money.
It's an interesting idea to say the least and the project itself could have been much more dynamic, but as it stands the acting is so poor and the quality is so lacking that it feels like a cheesy made for TV affair. Everybody over acts to the point that the movie becomes a parody of itself and even names like Armand Assante and Roy Scheider can't save the picture. The style of the film is a little pseudo-documentary with some drama and social commentary tossed in for good measure. The only problem is while the message may be satirically poignant the movie as a whole just isn't that good.
Marty Rockman (Springer) is the man behind Citizen Verdict. He preaches strongly about the lack of justice in the courtrooms today and that's his main drive to produce the show. He eventually lands credible support from Florida Governor Bull Tyler (Scheider) who backs the idea of the show and despite opposition from other politicians, gives the show his approval. In order to pull off Citizen Verdict, Rockman needs to assemble a powerful duo of lawyers to represent the prosecution and defense of the case.
Sam Patterson (Assante) takes the defensive corner while Jessica Landers (Justine Mitchell) tackles the prosecution. Patterson is arguably the biggest focus of attention in the film and the character really gets the most fleshing out. He resides on his boat, properly named "Best Defense" and has hit a bit of a rough patch after a gruesome divorce with a woman who can't act to save her life. How he feels about the show is never really discussed, but he approaches it and the case at hand as if it were a real courtroom. Assante tends to ham it up a bit at parts, but nowhere near as bad as some of the other actors in the film do.
The first case for Citizen Verdict is the murder trial of a television cooking star that appeared to possess Martha Stewart-like qualities. Dolly Hamilton had a squeaky clean image on camera and in the media, but according to her murderer Ricky Carr (Raffaello Degruttola) had an appetite for S&M. He claims that she approached him to have some rough sex and things got out of control, though the evidence at hand makes it difficult to convey that story to the public. Will the American audience find him innocent? Or will he be sentenced to death for the murder? The verdict is a reflection on the evidence that is presented to the public and as we all know; things aren't always as they appear to be on TV.
I wanted to like this movie, I really did. I loved the idea behind the concept of the show, but the way it's all pieced together just doesn't really work. The acting is easily the biggest deterrent for the film though and if you need proof of that just look at the tirade that Marty Rockman unleashes at the end of the picture. It is one of the most poorly acted scenes that I have ever witnessed and is a good example why Springer should not be "acting". I suppose it wouldn't have seemed so ghastly out of place if his character had gotten more development, but as it stands he thankfully doesn't get much play time.
Citizen Verdict is presented on DVD with a 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio and offers some dodgy quality. The image is very sharp for the most part and clean at others, but there are times that the picture becomes soft and very grainy. There are also plenty of moments where some speckle is found in the video and edge enhancement is evident here and there. The contrast and tint of the picture is off as well and nearly every shot is off-color or has a washed out look that simply doesn't do it justice. It's a little that could have been strived for to make the movie look stylish, but it comes across as very distracting and unnatural looking.
As you'd expect with a film that doesn't have a lot of action, but features more than its fare share of dialogue, the sound in Citizen Verdict is mostly front channel. The disc offers a choice between Dolby Digital Stereo and 5.1, but I didn't really catch a significant different between the two. The 5.1 does give some slight directionality and rear channel play, but it's just not that dynamic. There are no subtitles offered on this release.
On the DVD there are some trailers to look at and a making of featurette for the film. This little behind the scenes feature is interesting with a narrative by some of the actors about the concept of the movie and the characters it revolves around. The featurette runs for about twelve minutes and offers some nice production shots, but really feels more like a fluff piece with a lot of the cast patting each other on the back. A commentary would have been nice if it was included, but sadly we don't get one with this release.
Citizen Verdict promotes and extremely interesting idea with a strong message, but the movie falls flat on its face thanks to some horrible acting. I couldn't buy any of the performances here and even though the movie features a noteworthy cast, they all really ham it up. The DVD also features some iffy video quality and a full frame presentation, plus the lack of any really interesting bonus material hurts things a bit. Unless you're very interested in the movie and the idea surrounding it, I suggest you skip it.
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