Released to local theaters during the same year as her Oscar winning performance in Moonstruck, Cher appears in this Peter Yates thriller as a court appointed attorney assigned to defend a mute Liam Neeson against a slam dunk murder charge. Don’t jump to conclusions to fast, Mr. Neeson wasn’t yet the leading man we know him to be today, it’s juror Dennis Quaid who will play Cher’s leading man and possible romantic interest in this above average suspense yarn.
Before the film is a few minutes old, we see a supreme court judge commit suicide and shortly afterwards, a woman’s body found floating along a river flowing through Washington D.C. Seemingly unconnected but time and an up tempo script will connect the two. Mute and homeless vagabond, Neeson is found with the dead woman’s wallet and the nine dollars she was carrying. He’s apprehended along the shore line where, under a heavy beard and long hair, he has been living with many other homeless people. Cher finds herself in the right place at the wrong time allowing Judge Bill Cobbs to assign her as Neeson’s court appointed defender.
While Cher figures out that Neeson is mute, lobbyist and cocksure Dennis Quaid finds himself called for jury duty. He’s instantly sparring with Cher during the pretrial set up and against his wishes, is selected to serve on the jury. Not only does Cher have to contend with Joe Mategna’s flashy prosecutor, but she’ll have to be on her best behavior in Judge John Mahoney’s courtroom. He’s a stern taskmaster who seems to have an agenda of his own. A bit of a red herring but he isn’t doing Neeson or Cher any favors.
The case begins to take some twists and turns thanks to Quaid as the inquisitive juror. While he’s not sitting in court, he begins to play amateur detective and against all rules of legality, begins to pass off his findings to Cher. She isn’t impressed and could face some stiff legal penalties if hard ass Mahoney gets wind of the information Quaid has been supplying to Cher. Naturally, Quaid takes a liking to Cher and as the script has already pointed out, she has little time for a personal life and would love to find a man, marry and settle down. Could Mr. Quaid be a Godsend?
Perhaps but like any murder mystery, the killer has to be one of our leading players. The light also shines bright on a man of political influence played by Philip Bosco. He’s the Attorney General and passes along some harsh words of wisdom to the nosey Quaid. The thrills are still to come with shadowy figures and long dark alleys as Cher just might be getting too close to the truth in connecting the death of an unimportant woman and a Superior Court Judge. Skeletons are in someone’s closet and that someone would prefer they remain there.
While this might not be the most famous film ever directed by Peter Yates, it’s a well done court room thriller with plenty of mystery and adventure as the film moves along towards unveiling the killer. By this time, Yates had a solid track record to his name having directed the 1968 classic Bullitt, the under appreciated The Fiends of Eddie Coyle and Breaking Away which featured a very young Quaid. Quaid was hitting his stride by this time and is an actor I find worth watching in most anything.
John Mahoney as the judge presiding over the case sure can play a mean S.O.B. in big screen movies which I suppose lent itself well to his cantankerous S.O.B. on the long run of Frasier for network TV. Like Quaid, Neeson was beginning to hit his own stride as a leading man with Schindler around the corner and as we have seen in recent years, an action hero thanks to Taken.
If you’re into the court room thriller from classics like Witness For the Prosecution and Twelve Angry Men to more modern fare like Michael Clayton or Runaway Jury, then give this one a shot if you already haven’t. It’s an enjoyable flick with a cast of name actors to match.
I’ve seen this two or three times and always found it very watchable; I imagine it’ll get popped into the DVD player one or two times more. I’ve also read the novel (racks brains for author’s name, comes up with nuttin) and if anything liked it even more: a real white-knuckle piece. For me, in the movie, Neeson’s the standout: I knew nothing of him before seeing this but That boy will go far I thought.
Neeson was instantly recognizable once he shaved the long beard. I remember thinking he had a Jack Palance look due to the sharp features and bone structure. Still does. A good film that is easy to recommend.
A good film that is easy to recommend.
I’d agree on that. If I recall rightly, though, it wasn’t offered a huge amount of love by the critics. A shame.
Hm. You’re tempting me to go dig out my copy for another watch!
Always my goal!
Just been watching Jean-Louis Trintignant’s Une Journee Bien Remplie (1973), mind you, which I’d venture to suggest is the better movie. How this one slid down the collective memory hole is a bit of a mystery. I’d love to know if you’ve seen it.
I have not but just did a bit of research and it sounds like a film I need to… thanks for the recommendation
I was startled by how much I liked it — sort of Jacques Tati does a serial-killer movie. Apparently Trintignant (a fave actor of mine) has directed just one other movie, likewise a dark, acerbic, satiric comedy. I think I may have to track it down.