...And Justice for All (1979)

Genres - Comedy Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Satire  |   Run Time - 117 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Nathan Southern

Sometimes 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 sans 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 exceed its grasp.