Just Cause (1995)
This thriller adapted from a novel by John Katzenbach is a clear case of Silence of the Lambs meeting Cape Fear and caught in the middle of the bloodshed is a Harvard Professor of Law played by Sean Connery. I’ll be the first too admit that I wasn’t all that enamored of this film when I saw it at the theater upon it’s initial release. Here I am 25 years later giving it a second shot only to find myself engrossed in it and remembering just how much I enjoyed seeing the latest Sean Connery film on the big screen during those later years of his iconic career.
And yes I miss him.
Connery finds himself lured into an eight year old case that ended with Blair Underwood convicted of a heinous crime. He’s currently sitting on death row awaiting the electric chair having been found guilty for the rape and murder of a seven year old girl. In the opening scenes he’s clearly been beaten and terrorized by the arresting officers, Laurence Fishburne and Christopher Murray, prior to giving a confession under extreme duress.
At the urging of Blair’s grandmother, Ruby Dee, Connery agrees to look over the case and comes to believe that the educated Blair was railroaded and set up as a matter of convenience by Fishburne and Murray to close a small town case in the state of Florida. When Connery meets the arresting officers they do little to convince him that they arrested the right man but instead begin to level threats at Connery urging him to drop the case and let Blair go to the chair. Ned Beatty as Blair’s defense lawyer more or less admits to not overexerting himself to save the young man during the trial either for fear it would hurt his standing in the community.
Now let’s take that turn towards Silence of the Lambs. Also sitting in a cell not far from Blair’s is a nauseatingly evil Ed Harris. A known serial killer who has absolutely no remorse for his deeds and refuses to let his victims lie peacefully. From his cell he continues to torment the families by posted letters. Could it be possible that Harris by a twist of fate is the actual killer of the little girl that Blair has been convicted of? Harris even refers to Blair as his final victim and when interviewed by Connery he passes along some key information about where one might find the murder weapon that was never recovered.
I will say that Harris brought his A game to the two scenes that he shares with Connery. That doesn’t mean he’s likable. Far from it as far as villains go. Some villains are scenery chewing icons and that’s what makes them so memorable. Here Harris is so believably cold and violent in his rage that he’s just downright terrifying. Kudos to this far too often underrated actor of his generation.
So Harris is scary as hell, Fishburne is a real S.O.B. who in all likelihood railroaded an innocent man and Connery’s a fish on the hook. There are some parallel twists going on in our thriller where Connery’s wife Kate Capshaw is concerned. But if I delve into these plot developments then I’ll be giving away too much of the many twists and turns that lie in wait over the latter half of this film that clocks in at 102 minutes.
One thing that did stand out for the wrong reasons was the personal life of Connery’s character. 42 year old Kate for a wife. A pre teen daughter played by Scarlett Johansson in just her second film. His in-laws were played by Hope Lange and Kevin McCarthy. What I’m trying to say here is that Connery as his character is written is too old for the part based on those around him. At the age of 65 he’s three years older that his on-screen Mother-in Law, Miss Lange!
Now I did mention we head into Cape Fear territory for our final act? Sorry but this is where I have to bow out of the plot details.
A few other faces you may recall appearing here in this Arne Glimcher directed effort are Daniel J. Travanti, Liz Torres, Chris Sarandon in a blink and you miss him role and jack of all trades, George Plimpton, opens the movie in a debate with Connery over the death penalty setting the tone for what is yet to come. Plimpton appeared in a number of minor roles over the course of his “acting” career but it’s his association with the sports world that I find both hilarious and fascinating. I’ll leave it to you to discover more about that topic.
Connery also scored an Executive Producer on the film alongside a Steve Perry who for the record is no relation to me. But damn! I need to reach out to my “cousin” Steve and chat him up about some of the films he’s worked on. Rocky, Action Jackson, Sudden Impact and True Romance among some other weighty titles. Hey Steve! Give me a call.
Connery and Harris would reunite one year later in the blockbuster 1996 release, The Rock. 1995 proved to be a busy year for Fishburne. He could be seen in five releases that calendar year. Aside from his role here you could spot him in Othello, The Tuskegee Airmen, Higher Learning and Bad Company. Just Cause also served as the final theatrical release for Hope Lange, an actress I’ll always associate for her short yet crucial role in Death Wish.
I would think it’s easy to locate this title in most any bargain bin or second hand shop if you’re inclined to go out and give it a look for the first time or like me maybe a long overdue revisit. You may like what you find and as I mentioned earlier, it’s just nice to sit back and once again see Connery do his thing.