(1979)3.5Nathan SouthernOftentimes, the most difficult features to approach are those whose brilliant scenes add up to less than they would if taken individually. 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 schizoid and erratic, veering unpredictably from earnest ands heartbreaking social excoriations to daft and uproarious black comedy.. The film's 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, by some small miracle, Justice's strengths far outshine the flaws that exist on the script level. The Jewison-directed performances by Al Pacino, then-newcomer Christine Lahti, Jack Warden,Jeffrey Tambor, Craig T. Nelson, and especially John Forsythe (who surprised everybody with a brilliant vile turn away from his good-guy typecasting) score a bullseye. (Lahti and Pacino play off of each other with astonishing deftness -- their romantic/sexual patter is one of the film's great highlights). The preponderance of the film's satirical commentary on the American judicial system feels spot-on, as eerily predictive 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 -- from Pacino, the irascible counsel responsible for punching Forsythe's judge in the mouth, to Tambor's over-the-edge fellow attorney, who shaves his head and hurls discus with cafeteria plates in the courthouse hallways, to Warden's suicidally fetishistic judge, who brings Pacino's character within an inch of death in a helicopter ride. And though the details of the film's final scene will go unrevealed here, let it be said that it rewrote the rules of the cinematic "courtroom tirade" -- it remains one of those rare concluding sequences, like the courtroom scene in Martin Ritt's The Front, that have the viewer crying, laughing, and cheering simultaneously, in stunned admiration. ...And Justice for All may suffer a bit from the scriptwriters' gutsy attempt to blend tones, but it ultimately rises above its scattered weaknesses and stakes its claim to greatness
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 finally retaliates by representing a repulsive judge (John Forsythe) accused of rape. 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.