When I first launched this site to give my personal stories and views on films one of the first things I did was a live posting on how much I miss Gene Hackman on screen (see here). It’s rewatching films like this that make me realize how true that is.
I hadn’t seen this one since it hit home video years ago so it was overdue for a fresh look. Once again Gene didn’t disappoint me as I felt he was at the top of his game.
While we all know Gene can make for an intense figure on screen in villainous roles he could also bring that intensity to other characters he played including this role of a crusading lawyer seeking justice cast in a heroic role publicly but less so to those in his inner circle. Least of all to his daughter played by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio who has been at odds with her father for his past sins in the home.
When a case falls into Gene’s lap involving an automaker hiding the cause of spontaneous combustion when the vehicles are involved in rear end collisions he believes he’s found that David vs. Goliath case worth fighting for. Coming along for the ride is his assistant in the firm played by Laurence (don’t call me Larry as the credits list him) Fishburne.
Things get personal when Donald Moffit’s firm assigns Mastrantonio to defend the auto firm. Gene sees it as a sham tactic to get him to back down and tells her so. She’s not about to pass on the high profile case and the Hollywood plot is set for what becomes an engaging drama in and out of the courtroom.
Gene and Mary Elizabeth get there shots in both professionally and privately at each other. “You’re a user Dad!” she screams as he throws her out after a close call with his fist. The tension mounts as she begins to see that perhaps under the gruff exterior Gene’s prediction that the firm will toss her aside and send the big boys in to tackle him when the chips are down wasn’t so far off.
Character actor Matt Clark is the judge in charge of the case that features Fred Dalton Thompson as the head of the auto maker firm and Jan Rubes as the witness that may crack the case wide open. Rubes is a long retired scientist whose job was to test the automakers product before it hit the street.
There’s a moral tale in here when Mastrantonio begins to see the greed vs. human life factor evolving in the case and whether or not Gene’s in the wrong or the people she’s both working for and defending.
It’s fair to say that going into this courtroom drama we know where it’s going to take us but with the pros taking us there this turns into a totally watchable product from director Michael Apted. Apted has been directing since the sixties with titles like Gorillas In the Mist and Gorky Park under his belt. He even joined the world of James Bond for The World Is Not Enough. He’s still active today in documentaries, cable shows and film.
Perhaps not as flashy as Gene’s other courtroom thriller The Runaway Jury this one offers a steady paced drama with the actors involved coming in strong led by both Mr. Hackman and Miss Mastrantonio.