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r rated, four moon iconWarner Studios (DVD), ASIN 0790729660
In the hands of John Grisham, this film's plot rips American history to the core. The young hero of A Time to Kill takes on all comers in Sixties' style confrontations between idealism and the powerful, cock-sure and damnably secure. Here, six different attorneys, paired in threes, meet up in a courtroom version of High Noon. Matthew McConaughey makes a perfect New Age Gary Cooper, elegant in his close-ups and inevitable on the courthouse steps. Just like Grace Kelly, Sandra Bullock, playing a fervent law student, sublimates passion to commitment despite being smitten with her hero.

DVD: A Time TO KillThe villain of this fire-breathing story proves to be nothing less than the oldest brand of prejudice: the impulse to treat the differently minded as subjugated cretins who may be murdered for sport. Against this horrendous portrait of Mississippi's backwaters at their worst, Grisham sets the up-and-comer, representing true Civil Rights, which belong to all citizens in common. Interestingly enough, Grisham develops his tale without a single Fed venturing among the sweating, dripping, and overworked champions of fair-mindedness. Here, the civil rights sympathizers are natives, too, from the very same region all too famous for arson and killings in defiance of racial integration. Without the Feds, this drama becomes a tale of a community at war with itself. America's brutal Civil War looms in the background of the saga, its legacy almost palpable to the touch.

The courtroom scenes allow every faction to have its say. As the father of a victimized ten year-old, Samuel Jackson radiates nobility without ever dismissing his humble origins. As the district attorney, Kevin Spacey strikes exactly the right note of arrogance, which can be conquered but never destroyed. As the behind-the-scenes Klan leader, Kiefer Sutherland manifests consistent contempt for all rights except his own. As the endless voice of cynicism, Oliver Platt earns special kudos for 100 proof credibility in his puffed-cheeks, tie-askew, worn-to-his-glamorous-heels role. Overall, these characters debate issues which fan out from the legal battles, centering the focus of A Time to Kill not in the courts but in the home.

Astonishing in its capacity to rivet viewers to their seats, this drama will prompt viewers to applaud its numerous victories over meanness in the human spirit. Its final battles burst forth like gunfire, slamming victim and perpetrator, defender and accuser, smack up against each other. Just when every issue seems settled, watch out! Grisham never says done until each pair of hulking monsters and stalwart good guys squares off and shares the utmost secrets of their hearts. As a theme, racism may have been done to death but never like this! For a brief trip to the dangerous South of the Sixties, see this film -- and come home feeling whole again.

Meg Curtis

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