A Time to Kill

A Time to Kill Image
Metascore
54

Mixed or average reviews - based on 21 Critics What's this?

User Score
8.9

Universal acclaim- based on 150 Ratings

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  • Starring: , , ,
  • Summary: A murder trial brings a small Mississippi town's racial tensions to the flashpoint. Amid a frenzy of activist marches, Klan terror, media clamor and brutal riots, an unseasoned but idealistic young attorney mounts a stirring courtroom battle for justice. (Warner Bros.)

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Score distribution:
  1. Positive: 8 out of 21
  2. Negative: 4 out of 21
  1. If the film doesn't add up to a cogent legal argument, neither does it have trouble delivering 2 hours and 20 minutes' worth of sturdy, highly charged drama.
  2. Reviewed by: Todd McCarthy
    90
    As originated by Grisham and adapted by Akiva Goldsman, this is a story of elemental emotional and legal issues splashed across a large canvas, and director Joel Schumacher has done a solid job of keeping the many components in focus and balance.
  3. 75
    A Time to Kill, based on the first novel by John Grisham, is a skillfully constructed morality play that pushes all the right buttons and arrives at all the right conclusions.
  4. Director Joel Schumacher has pulled no mawkish punches, wringing every drop of emotional potential from the script (adapted by screenwriter Akiva Goldsman from John Grisham's popular novel) down to the last manipulative glance and close-up. Call it A Time to Overkill.
  5. Director Joel Schumacher and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman seem incapable of emphasizing what's important and relegating the rest to secondary status.
  6. 50
    A Time to Kill embodies all that is wrong with Hollywood attempts to address important issues, raising questions of race and justice but refusing to deal with them on anything but the most simplified, manipulative moral terms.
  7. Like many artists today, Grisham and Schumacher exploit racial tension without understanding it.

See all 21 Critic Reviews

Score distribution:
  1. Positive: 4 out of 7
  2. Negative: 1 out of 7
  1. JaredB.
    Mar 31, 2008
    10
    I have seen almost every one of the movies that have been adapted from John Grishams novels. This is, by a longshot, the best one. Samuel L. I have seen almost every one of the movies that have been adapted from John Grishams novels. This is, by a longshot, the best one. Samuel L. Jackson plays Carl Lee, a black man whose daughter is brutally raped by two racist rednecks. As the rapists are being brought to their arraignment, Carl Lee steps in and shoots them both, killing them. Carl Lee is then arrested and charged with murder. He picks Jake Brigance, brilliantly played by Matthew McConaughey, to defend him. When Brigance agrees, he finds himself spending more time on the case, and less time on other things, like his family. This puts a major strain on his marriage. I also liked Sandra Bullock as Ellen Roark, a Boston Law student who badly wants to help. I can't reveal the end of the movie, because then, I'd spoil it for anyone who hasn't seen it. If you havent yet seen this movie I strongly recommend it. Be warned, however, that, because of some violence and graphic descriptions of rape, this movie is NOT for very young children. Personally, I absolutely adored this film. Expand
  2. Jun 7, 2015
    9
    It's always interesting to read reviews of older movies. You can see how often reviewers totally don't get how influential a film will become.It's always interesting to read reviews of older movies. You can see how often reviewers totally don't get how influential a film will become. You quite often read sterling reviews for films that have totally been forgotten. And then find reviews for a film like this one (judged mediocre by critics when it came out) that still speaks to people. A film that can be seen over and over on TV and still maintain its force and passion.

    Sadly, the issues addressed in A Time to Kill are ever more present with us. The speech "imagine she is white" is so timely today.

    Amazing to see such a collection of future Oscar winners and nominees in this: McConaughey, Bullock, Spacey, Fricker, Judd. And how is it possible neither McConaughey nor Samuel L. Jackson were nominated for their superb performances?
    Expand
  3. Jun 8, 2014
    8
    A Time to Kill proves to be one of the most riveting courtroom dramas of the 90's: the acting is great and the story is shocking, if not a bitA Time to Kill proves to be one of the most riveting courtroom dramas of the 90's: the acting is great and the story is shocking, if not a bit formulaic. However, it's the romanticism and relationship elements in the movie that bring it down a bit. Save it for the Phantom, Schumacher. Expand
  4. Jul 22, 2016
    8
    A Time to Kill may be quite typical in spots, it is also an incredibly well crafted and great film at others. In particular, the writing isA Time to Kill may be quite typical in spots, it is also an incredibly well crafted and great film at others. In particular, the writing is spectacular, particularly at the end with Matthew McConaughey's final monologue. Passionate and beautiful, the writing in that scene really sweeps you up and elevates the whole picture. Additionally, the film manages to thrill at all turns as you attempt to figure out what the jury will decide in this landmark and racially divisive case. Can a black man receive a fair trial in Mississippi? Should he be guilty regardless? A morally difficult film about vigiliantism, the film can be quite one sided and not all of the characters are well put together, but the acting and dialogue more than fix these problems. McConaughey is terrific and Samuel L. Jackson is great with a passionate and typically fiery performance as the father who exacted revenge on the men who raped his daughter. A tough watch at times, A Time to Kill showcases how the courtroom drama type of film can be done right and can be incredibly thrilling and thought provoking. Though typical, A Time to Kill has more than enough going for it to overcome those problems. Expand
  5. vbee
    Feb 13, 2007
    5
    This movie is too stupid to address the issues it's about.
  6. Nov 1, 2014
    5
    This review contains spoilers, click expand to view. Based on the good reviews, the strong cast, and the very complex starting situation I expected this to be a great movie, but it later becomes dumbed down and force fed to us, rather then helping the viewer explore the issues it tries to address. I was so disappointed by the cheesy, binarised american-dream ending, that I feel like I wasted 2.5 hours of my life listening to someone talking about racism in the intellectual level of "Racism is bad, OK?" The acting is amazing, and it is neatly executed piece of cinema, I just wished they used it tell a more meaningful story. Expand
  7. Apr 9, 2016
    2
    This review contains spoilers, click expand to view. Down south in Mississippi everything is wrong as we can gather from this movie that starts with two white rednecks raping a black child and subsequently attempting to murder her. For your conscience there is no doubt about their guilt, for we witness the details in all its brutality. We are also left in no doubt that such deeds go unpunished in that part of the globe so that the father of the victim hands out his own justice by gunning the suspects down.

    Enter white hero Matthew McConaughey who will fight for the cause of the black father Samuel L. Jackson against the likes of a slimy white prosecutor Kevin Spacey and the condescending white judge Patrick McGoohan and attempt to convince a totally white jury that Jackson was legally insane at the time of the murders.

    Outside the courtroom the Klan resurfaces on instigation of Kiever Sutherland to fight for white supremacy and exact vengeance for the death of Kiever's buddies. Their prime target is McConaughey and associates who never get any proper police protection despite several attacks on their homes and lives. The law enforcement forces down south are rotten to the core as is shown when one of McConaugheys supporters, Sandra Bullock, gets abducted with the aid of a cop.

    Bullock is hugely annoying as she plays a lady who thinks she is brilliant and is cocky enough to say so. Her argument: she is better informed about court cases than McConaughey is, which isn't saying much as he knows jack shyte. Not strange for he prefers to hold office in the local pub. Thus Bullock gets dropped in and also because we need a gal in the movie to chat up the male lead. It takes Bullock some time to convince him though, because he prefers Platt for a drinking buddy. Not because he is gay mind you, but because he is married. Which doesn't stop him from getting drunk with Bullock and sleep in one room with her.

    This sounds like the movie is about some greezy white down-on-his-luck lawyer who finds himself on the black side of the racial divide. But no: this is a young brilliant promising lawyer who feels he has to show the truth against racial prejudice. Keep this in mind: to show the truth.

    As viewers we are in no doubt about what occurred: we did see the rape, we did see the attempted murder and we did see the scumbags gloat about it. But one should not forget that nobody in the jury did.What they ought to know is this: two men accused of rape and attempted murder of a girl are killed by another man. But we know too much and the movie never stresses that the jury does not know what we know. But it will get worse.

    It is also a bad ploy to make the prosecutor and judge out to be dubious characters. Why would they not be as devoted to their work as the defense lawyer is and perhaps as honest too, but just of a different disposition? But they are never given any leeway. They are bad.

    And it is equally wrong to have violent Klan members appear so we can witness their misdeeds in full view.

    The worst however is this: McConaughey wins not because he makes a brilliant case. He wins because he plays on the jury members feelings by using the rape of the child as an argument.. which was already been deemed to be inadmissible in court as it was never established that they had done the rape.

    This movie is so far from To kill a mocking bird. In To kill a mocking bird we don't see the crime, we don't know much more than the jury does, the judge is a decent man and it is the white jury who convicts the black man against all fairness.

    And here lies the real paint point that this movie avoids to address. Racism is embedded deep within society and it is not just something that drives some fringe members of society like the Klan and scumbag cops, lawyers and judges. It is in your neighbors next door and that white person who prays to the same god as the black person, but each in their own church.

    But even worse: it does not in anyway explain why those people feel the way they do. They are just 'evil'.

    All of the above illustrates how deeply flawed the story is.The 'bad' side is so dehumanized evil that we have no other option than to root for the 'good' side, even if you are an ardent Klan member. It does nothing to improve further understanding of racism and paints a wholly distorted picture of everyone involved.

    A waste of a potential acting talent in a deeply flawed movie.
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