The truth can be more fantastic than fiction. In the courtroom, it almost always is. Buried amongst a maze of rules, regulations and legal code, are incredible stories of common people. While most of these stories sit quietly in the minds of attorneys and clients, a few have found their way to the big screen.
We’ve compiled a list of three legal films that have delighted, entertained and mirrored many of our experiences. From the brutal truth of films like Just Mercy to the comedic timing of My Cousin Vinny, each connects to the larger legal story.
Pull up a chair, grab a bag of popcorn and let’s look at some of our favorite legal films for you and the family.
First on our list is the powerful, biographical drama, Just Mercy. Like the title, which draws poignant attention to key themes of justice and mercy, the movie teaches lessons in both. This thought-provoking story centers on a young lawyer, Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan), who graduates from Harvard and begins his career. Rather than accepting high-paying positions in his field as expected, he decides to open a Legal Aid center located in Alabama to serve wrongly convicted citizens who cannot afford the cost of quality representation.
Stevenson begins overseeing the case of Walter McMillian, a man wrongfully accused and convicted. McMillian is at first suspicious of Stevenson’s intentions but eventually begins to trust that he will actually help him. The contrast between the two men and their life trajectories is striking and it depicts the realities and consequences of wrongful conviction for black men in America. One memorable line spoken by Jamie Foxx suggests that it is the broken and racist system that yields the result of wrongful conviction: “In the state of Alabama, you are already considered guilty as soon as you are born.”
Just Mercy is an entanglement of real experiences in the black community; and, it highlights real-life ways people were able to fight these systematic issues. Needless to say, it is a must-see for those interested in justice.
A Civil Action
For those interested in personal injury law, look no further than the suspenseful drama, A Civil Action. This movie centers on the epic legal battle filed by the parents of children who passed away from drinking contaminated water in their community. Here, John Travolta plays the brilliant and passionate lawyer representing the devastated parents in the fight for justice amidst their loss.
Travolta’s impassioned performance is showcased during the scene in which he asks: “Why do I lie awake worrying about my clients?” Fighting for the rights of the families for both change and proper compensation, A Civil Action captivates the audience by demonstrating the dedication Travolta’s character has in fighting for what is right, especially during the heated courtroom negotiation scene
In a battle that feels lost, it is redemptive to see a lawyer with a history of for-profit civil action suits, fight against the wealthy and powerful to ensure justice for the lives of the children lost. Naturally, this is a movie that has become a staple in the genre.
My Cousin Vinny
If you’re not in the mood for a legal drama, look no further than the classic legal comedy, My Cousin Vinny. This movie centers on two kids, Ben and Stan, on their way to college but find themselves framed for murder.
The story revolves around the not-yet lawyer, and only recently-graduated cousin to Ben, Vinny. Though only his first case, he is Ben and Stan’s only hope for justice, and it goes without saying that fun and chaos in the courtroom ensues. Though chiefly a comedy, the audience also has the opportunity to experience the truth of how the legal system can falsely entrap an innocent person with the frightening potential of prison. However, Vinny’s lack of experience, inappropriate jargon, and comedic mishaps during the trial result in a fun-filled and lively film that stands the test of time and continues to entertain.
Does Vinny somehow figure out a way to keep his falsely accused cousin from prison? Do the two kids redeem themselves and get to go to college as planned? Do yourself a favor and watch this timeless comedy to find out.
Choose from the Three
All three of these films are must-sees for the legal buff, but if you’re having trouble choosing what to watch first, decide what kind of movie you’re in the mood for. If you’re feeling like a cinematic drama, look no further than the first suggestion, Just Mercy. Or, if you feel like a fun and entertaining experience, My Cousin Vinny is the best choice for you. Finally, for a courtroom-hero movie, A Civil Action is the one to beat. Fortunately, you don’t have to miss any of these legal films-- and we suggest-- you watch them all.
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