The courtroom drama is a familiar vehicle for movie goers. While legal battles don’t have the compelling scenes found in action movies, they can have a huge social impact and encourage debate on key issues. The best movie lawyers are almost always multi-dimensional. They want to win their courtroom battle, but they have a life outside that involves wives, husbands, children and other family members. Finding the proper balance between family and the courtroom is often a challenge for these nine high-powered movie lawyers.
Gregory Peck starred as courageous Atticus Finch in the classic movie “To Kill A Mockingbird” (1962). In this movie, Finch defends a black man in Alabama accused of raping a white woman during the 1930s. While Finch produces compelling evidence and shows that the event did not happen, he cannot stop the townspeople from heaping prejudice on him and his family. Finch is all about doing the right things and teaching his children to always think before acting and then doing the right thing.
Tom Hanks starred in “Philadelphia” (1993) as gay attorney Andrew Beckett. When his firm learns he has contracted AIDS, he is fired for incompetence. Beckett is not going to stand to have his legal reputation tarnished and he files suit against his own firm with the help of homophobic lawyer Joe Miller (Denzel Washington). Beckett’s courage helps Miller overcome his own prejudice and they win their case.
Lt. Daniel Kaffee
Tom Cruise showed he was no lightweight when he took on the role of Lt. Daniel Kaffee, a U.S. Navy attorney who has to battle Col. Nathan Jessup (Jack Nicholson) in “A Few Good Men” (1992). When a young sailor loses his life in what is basically a hazing incident, Kaffee has to show that Jessup was the driving force and cannot be allowed to cover up the murder.
Spencer Tracy takes on one of his most memorable roles in “Inherit The Wind” (1960). In this movie, Henry Drummond (Tracy) defends a public school teacher who has the temerity to teach Darwin’s theory of evolution in his southern classroom. This offends the sensibilities of rival lawyer Matthew Harrison Brady (Frederic March) and the two engage in a memorable courtroom battle.
While Woods (Reese Witherspoon) is only a law student who goes to Harvard initially to try and win back her boyfriend, she turns into a little bulldog in “Legally Blonde”(2001) and finds the evidence needed to help a young widow earn a not guilty verdict in a murder trial. It’s a silly movie designed to serve as a vehicle for the stunning Witherspoon, but her character shows quite a bit of integrity–underneath all the makeup.
Frank Galvin (Paul Newman) is a mediocre lawyer nearing the end of a disappointing career. However, in “The Verdict” (1982), Galvin takes on a medical malpractice case and realizes he has an obligation to see the case through to a final verdict and not settle for a payday. The movie is as much about a man winning back his self-respect as it is about his ability in the courtroom.
Carl Lee Hailey (Samuel L. Jackson) kills two racists in rural Mississippi who have raped his 10-year-old daughter Tonya. Lawyer Jake Brigance (Matthew McConaughey) defends Hailey in “A Time To Kill” (1996) and wins the case with his closing argument in which he recounts the violence done to Tonya Hailey and then utters the clinching words to the jury: “Now imagine that she was white.”
Divorce attorney Miles Massey (George Clooney) is the nation’s top divorce attorney in the film “Intolerable Cruelty” (2003). His impressive clients and superior courtroom record along with his ability to write a nearly unbeatable prenup has given him celebrity status. However, when one of his clients wants to divorce Marilyn Rexroth (Catherine Zeta-Jones), he is totally beguiled by her beauty and charm. This is a send-up of all the stuffed-shirt lawyer television shows and movies and it works because Zeta-Jones is at her peak.
In “My Cousin Vinny” (1992) two young New Yorkers traveling south are accused of murder in a case of mistaken identity. Bill Gambini (Ralph Macchio) calls New York cousin Vinny Gambini (Joe Pesci) to defend him and Stanley Rothenstein (Mitchell Whitfield), even though Vinny has never been to trial. With the help of his overdone fiancée Mona Lisa Vito (Marisa Tomei) and her automotive expertise, Vinny gets his cousin and his friend off of the murder charge and he earns a courtroom victory under difficult circumstances.