a fine and watchable film, but nothing extraordinary. it has a dreary ending, but it isn’t at all dramatic or impactful – it’s just empty. perhaps that’s part of the point – all this (all 2hr 40mins, the whole trial) is for nothing; such is life. fine enough, but not real compelling for me.
the best courtroom dramas aren’t simply good court room films, they expand the themes to contemporary society in some way – inherit the wind comes to mind. this film didn’t seem to have that in any clear way. one could probably extrapolate some meaning from certain elements like the country vs. city theme or larger themes of justice in the mccarthy era or something, though those would be stretching quite a bit. it’s a “realistic” courtroom drama in that there’s only one “twist” in the plot and the lawyers aren’t overly eloquent and witty. no witness breaks down under cross-examination and admits that they were the murderer, or anything like that. the title is fitting of the tone – it’s very clinical and detached, it has no heart, it has no opinion; it just is. this is probably what divides most people on the film: some people love its clinical tone and the way the film deals with the subject matter in a frank way, while others are bothered by the lack of “resolution.” i’m in the middle. i would have liked the film’s conclusion to have a period, instead it felt like a sentence cut off short (and not to the same effect as the ending in sayles’ “limbo”). at the same time i liked the realism and frankness of the film.
stewart did a fine job, though the character lacked pop. joseph welch played the judge and i found this performance to be the most entertaining. george c. scott would have been more likely to receive an academy award nomination from me than stewart, but it doesn’t matter because they were both nominated. interestingly, the film was nominated for seven aa awards and didn’t win any of them (ben-hur was the big winner instead).