(1979)3.5Nathan SouthernSometimes the most difficult features to approach are those whose brilliant scenes add up to less than they would if viewed on an individual basis. Norman Jewison's satire ...And Justice for All hits this mark, to such a degree that it almost defies criticism. As a whole, Justice feels wildly schizoid, veering unpredictably from earnest and heartbreaking scenes to daft and uproarious black comedy. The primary weakness originates with Barry Levinson and Valerie Curtin's screenplay, which never finds a tonal foothold -- it feels modally uncertain, shaky, and tenuous throughout. (That it received an Oscar nomination is inexplicable.) And yet,, the picture does have much to recommend it. The Jewison-directed performances by Al Pacino, Christine Lahti, Jack Warden,Jeffrey Tambor, Craig T. Nelson, and especially John Forsythe score a bullseye. Much of the satirical commentary on the American judicial system also feels incisive, as on-target as Network was, three years prior, in its excoriation of television news. And one cannot help but admire Levinson and Curtin's ensemble of eccentric characters, with Tambor's lunatic attorney and Warden's suicidal judge standing out as particularly entertaining. Unfortunately, though, the picture needs more of an ending than it has; it builds up to one of the most rousing courtroom tirades in memory, then merely peters out without a resolution, which is a problem given how invested we've grown in Pacino's character and the case he's been assigned to defend; one feels let down. Still, there is much here to appreciate and enjoy, even if the film's reach does ultimately exceeds its grasp.
Norman Jewison's blackly satirical look at the American justice system has gained in stature as one of the more incisive social commentaries of its time. Al Pacino plays Arthur Kirkland, an incorruptible attorney who attempts to initiate reforms in the Maryland justice system. Kirkland is haunted by the fates of two past clients, one of whom committed suicide in jail; the other is still alive but is locked up on a trumped-up traffic violation. The ability of power and money to distort the pursuit of justice becomes all too clear as Kirkland finds out how deeply the rot has spread. He is ultimately blackmailed into defending a repulsive judge (John Forsythe) accused of rape, and faces a crisis of conscience. Pacino's and Forsythe's performances are intense and powerful. Many critics found the film biting and almost painful in its razor-sharp indictment of the justice system, while others declared the script too outrageous.