Review for tribute to Jack Warden, born today. Amazing character actor. One of his best works.
AND JUSTICE FOR ALL, 1979
Directed by Norman Jewison
Cast; Al Pacino, Jack Warden, John Forsythe, Lee Strasberg, Jeffrey Tambor, Christine Lahti, Dominic Chianese, Craig T Nelson
Review by Surinder Singh
Ethical Baltimore lawyer Arthur Kirkland (Al Pacino) desperately battles the establishment of law when his case to free the innocent Jeff McCullaugh (Thomas Waites) is thrown out by the furiously unforgiving judge Fleming (John Forsythe) over a technicality. Soon enough the tables are turned and judge Fleming is arrested on a charge of rape and battery. Fleming specifically requests to be represented by Kirkland, which presents the honest lawyer with a conflict of interest…
…And Justice for All arrived at the tail end of what is in hindsight the decade that Al Pacino did some of his best work. With roles like Michael Corleone, Frank Serpico and Sonny Wortzik already behind him, Pacino had to a lot to live up to! Arthur Kirkland is one the less renowned roles that Pacino has played, even though the movie carries one of the most famous Pacino quotes of all time: “You’re out of order! You’re out of order! The whole trial is out of order!” This is perhaps due to Kirkland not being as visually striking as the stylish Michael Corleone or as outrageously fashioned as Frank Serpico. Either way, Kirkland is a topnotch Pacino performance!
We first see lawyer Kirkland sat in a jail cell amongst the incarcerated. Having thrown a punch at judge Fleming, Kirkland’s “passion” has isolated him from other lawyers safely in their apartments. Kirkland in many respects is much like Serpico in that he’s a man who is standing up against what he believes is wrong in his own institution. Kirkland faces a minefield of moral dilemma everyday of his life, luckily he has at least one escape: his grandfather Sam (Lee Strasberg). It’s worth noting that Strasberg was Pacino’s real-life acting coach/mentor during his days at the Actor’s Studio and the relationship certainly shows on screen.
What is so striking about this low-key movie is how strong the script is, thus completely understandable why Pacino signed on. Even though the film takes place in a world of suited-and-booted lawyers, there is never a dull moment or a shortage of interesting characters in Kirkland’s life. When Kirkland is invited by his friend and colleague the unconventional judge Rayford (Jack Warden) on a helicopter ride, it ends in a near-death landing! The scene is wonderfully comical with Warden as a man who has a playful relationship with fate; he shows the terrified Kirkland the importance of being courageous and taking risks.
Being true to himself is certainly a risk Kirkland will have to face in the challenge ahead of him. When Kirkland’s colleagues tell him Fleming has been arrested and wants to be defended by him the sheer absurdity causes the men laugh hysterically! The scene shows a great understanding of humor and director Jewison handles the scene with skill. Pacino makes you laugh out loud (despite the seriousness of the case) you have to stand back and laugh at his character’s circumstance. Fleming is largely responsible for Kirkland’s innocent, young client being sat in a jail with dangerous criminals. What makes things worse is when Fleming confesses to Kirkland he is in fact guilty of the rape.
As the film progresses, the moral questions begin to press heavily upon Kirkland. Pacino revels in this opportunity to do one of the things he does best: portraying someone with deep inner conflicts. Pacino pushed this skill to the limit in the famous “Sollozo Scene” in The Godfather (1972). With his dark eyes Pacino gazes out at others but draws you into his character’s mind and emotions. The camera loves Pacino’s long, staring pose and when it’s on him you cannot watch anyone else in frame. Pacino displays this skillfully in the scene where his colleague Porter (Jeffery Tambor) reveals that his guilty client (that he cleared) has now murdered again. The guilt is eating away at Porter and we see in Pacino’s eyes the conversation Kirkland is having with himself.
Kirkland has to ask himself the question: “should I defend my guilty client because it’s my job to do so?” Kirkland is compelled to take the case or be disbarred from the practice of law (such is the influence of judge Fleming) Kirkland cannot evade the question. The filmmakers ensure we see a very bleak vision of the law; every excuse is given to Kirkland to lose faith in the justice system. When Kirkland makes demands of his client Fleming it’s clear that the judge has no intention of following orders and seems to be using his lawyer for political reasons. In this scene we are made aware that Kirkland is a puppet on a string and that he’s within a system attempting to control him.
From the very beginning we know that Kirkland is the outsider and so if anyone is going to rage against the machine it will be him! The final courtroom scene is a real treat for Al Pacino fans as it allows him a platform for one of his classic speeches! Pacino takes hold of everyone’s attention and destroys Fleming’s plea of innocence in a show-stopping rant: “And ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the prosecution is not going to get that man today, no, because I’m gonna get him! My client, the Honorable Henry T. Fleming, should go right to fucking jail! The son of a bitch is guilty!”
Pacino’s Kirkland finishes the movie with his principles intact and the crowd cheering. …And Justice for All is a simple morality tale about he importance of doing what you believe is right and just. What makes it great viewing is the acting and non-fussy direction that shows you what’s possible with the basics of narrative cinema: story and character.
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