A Time To Kill – Movie Review

A Time To Kill – Movie Review

The Low-Down:

A Time To Kill is a compelling and tense legal thriller based on John Grisham’s first novel. It is one of those rare movies that actually turned out to be better than the book it was based on. The movie is about an African American man convicted of murdering two white men, who had raped his daughter, and almost killed her and his defense lawyer, who goes against all odds to save him from the death penalty. Themes like vigilantism, racial discrimination and lack of faith in the judicial system, were skillfully dealt by veteran director Joel Schumacher. The ensemble cast with heavyweights like Kevin Spacey, Donald Sutherland, Samuel L Jackson and Mathew McConaughey in the lead add a certain gravitas to the movie and ensure that you are glued to your seat from the very first scene.

Samuel L Jackson gave a memorable performance playing Carl Lee Hailey, the avenging father who had killed the rapists in broad day light because he lacked faith in the justice system. Mathew McConaughey was convincingly solid as Jake Brigance, a young, sharp and witty but inexperienced defense lawyer. The relentless and untiring determination towards his commitment to seek justice is a lesson for all the young and aspiring lawyers.

The Legal Angle:

Grisham’s unapologetic depiction of vigilante justice as a brutal consequence of distrust in the justice system may resonate with some people but it also poses a legal and moral conundrum. Can someone be allowed to take the law into their own hands? Is there any justification for vigilantism in a jural society? Joel Schumacher’s careful treatment of these sensitive issues present a compelling case for vigilante justice, but scholars of law are bound to disagree with the methods of Carl Lee Hailey.

The idea that courts are a medium through which justice must be dispensed is reinforced and packaged in an emotionally charged tale of a helpless father. The distinction between justice and deciding matters in accordance with the law, is maintained throughout the movie. While the purpose of law is to establish justice in a society, in practice this purpose is usually ignored in favor of what has already been defined (law). This divide between law and justice has been a bone of contention among jurists for thousands of years and this movie adds yet another take on the age old debate.

The main idea being, “will a black man receive a fair trial in the south?” was a recurring theme through out the movie and in a broader context can easily be applied to societies where socio-legal discrimination is still prevalent against racial/religious minorities. At the heart of this, the story is about the importance of civil rights and dangers of unchecked social privileges.

Final Verdict:

A spectacularly entertaining movie made believable with impeccable acting and brilliant direction. It will leave the audience with an aftertaste of justice in their mouths and questions in their minds. Not a dull moment guaranteed.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of any organization with which he might be associated.

Ali Zaidi

Author: Ali Zaidi

The writer is a final year law student at Punjab University Law College, Lahore.