Movie News

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Movie Lawyer Lists

Dan Here:

Time for another round of Best Of Lists.

Previously we have listed the Best Of Ron HowardConcert MoviesMovie Bars

Today, director Ridley Scott's new film, THE COUNSELOR is in theaters.
It's the first screenplay by author, Cormac McCarthy ('No Country For Old Men', 'The Road').
The film focuses on a lawyer known as The Counselor (played by Michael Fassbender).
It's set in the wild world of crime that occurs on the Mexico/Texas border.
Expect shady characters, violence, twists, turns and if it's like McCarthy's other works, something profound.

THE COUNSELOR got us thinking of other famous movie lawyers.
Immediately, Chris and I agreed that the greatest of all litigators was the man pictured above.

Atticus Finch is undoubtedly one of the most famous characters in American Literature and Film.
He's a father, a lawyer, a crack shot and most importantly, a man who believed in justice for all.
The film is a classic and the subject matter is as relevant today as ever.
It gave the great Gregory Peck his Best Actor Academy Award, on his fifth nomination.
Atticus reigns supreme as the Best Movie Lawyer Of All-Time. 

However, there are many more who argued for second place, and so . . .  


Dan's List

#5. Elle Woods-- Legally Blonde 

This girl had guts and gusto and saved her client from death row.
She breezed through Harvard Law like she was on "vacay". Is she a little unorthodox? 
Sure, but she gets the job done (and parlayed it into a sequel, a Broadway musical and a Barbie).
Well Done, Ms. Woods.

#4. Reggie Love-- The Client

Susan Sarandon's hack southern lawyer outwits the mafia and a slimey, Tommy Lee Jones.
Sarandon owned the first half of the 1990's:
She was nominated for the Best Actress Academy Award four times, in five years.
As for The John Grisham Adaptation List: #3. The Firm, #2. The Client and #1. A Time To Kill.

#3. Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee-- A Few Good Men

Tom Cruise delivers one of his most memorable performances and probably the most famous exchange of his career. This film was part of Cruisey's incredible streak, which will never be duplicated. Tons of great lawyering in this film, from a lot of quality actors. 
A FEW GOOD MEN is crucial when playing Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.

#2. Vincent Gambini-- My Cousin Vinny

Cousin Vinny may not technically be a lawyer, but he saved the two "youths" from execution.
Marisa Tomei won an Oscar and the combination of her and Joe Pesci make this movie fun, no matter how many times you've seen it (which, for me, is approximately fifty).

#1. Lazlo-- Where the Buffalo Roam

He loses his case, is held in contempt of court and body slams the prosecutor.
He may not be conventional, but he does have a style and would undoubtedly come in handy. 
Especially if you're hanging around with Hunter S. Thompson.
The trial sequence would make an incredible one-act play.
Lots of great Peter Boyle stuff throughout the film.
WHERE THE BUFFALO ROAM is not perfect, but it's Bill Murray, it's Thompson and Lazlo.
Good enough for me.

Honorable Mention: 
Andrew Beckett-- Philadelphia
Stunning performance from Tom Hanks, in the movie that proved he could really do drama.
He won the Best Actor Oscar and deservedly so.
Plus, Bruce Springsteen:

Chris's List

5 - Fletcher Reede (Jim Carrey) – Liar Liar 

Max:  My dad? He's... a liar.
Teacher:  A liar? I'm sure you don't mean a liar.
Max:  Well, he wears a suit and goes to court and talks to the judge.
Teacher:  Oh, you mean he's a lawyer.

What’s the difference, amiright? Lawyer jokes aside, in Liar Liar, Jim Carrey plays a career-oriented lawyer who got to be so good at his job mainly because he is such a talented and unapologetic liar. So when his son’s birthday wish prevents him from lying… well, you know the story. Liar Liar marks kind of midway film for Carrey – still a zany comedy, but with a fair amount of heart and drama – the kind that would come into play soon in his later career.

4 - David Kleinfeld (Sean Penn) – Carlito’s Way 

Director Brian De Palma was able to convince Sean Penn to come out of an early, semi-retirement to star as the sleazy lawyer to Al Pacino’s Carlito. Penn was fixated on what 1970s mob lawyers looked like and how often, men in the entertainment business can look even more bizarre than the talent they represent. So let’s just say, Penn nails the look. So good in fact, they obviously based the character in the video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City on him.

3 - Jake Brigance (Matthew McConaughey) – A Time to Kill 

I always said, if I could just watch To Kill a Mockingbird and A Time to Kill every day, I would easily make it through law school on inspiration alone. Over the years, I have read 2-3 John Grisham novels and A Time to Kill was the only one I liked – on top of that, it was the only one in the endless line of movies in the 1990s based on his books that I liked as well. Jake's entire closing argument is just fantastic. And he gets bonus points for the being mentored by a disbarred, alcoholic legal genius played by Donald Sutherland - a so deliciously clichéd, but delightful old Southern lawyer in a white suit.  

2 - Abraham Lincoln (Henry Fonda) – Young Mr. Lincoln

As the title states, this film depicts (fictionally) the early years of Abraham Lincoln, before he was the 16th President of the United States and was just a poor country lawyer. Wonderfully directed by the legendary John Ford, it is taught in film classes around the world (including one or two Dan I took together in college). Fonda’s portrayal of the famed president is delightful and was the gold standard for Lincoln portrayers, perhaps until Daniel Day Lewis’ awe-inspiring performance just last year.

1- Paul Biegler (James Stewart) – Anatomy of a Murder

A really terrific film that is not exactly what I was expecting when I first watched it a few years ago. Everything about it is just fantastic – from the Saul Bass title sequence to the myriad of excellent performances (most notably, the always enjoyable Jimmy Stewart).  The movie, which dealt with rather risqué material for 1959 (sex, rape, violence), has also been described as “probably the finest pure trial movie ever made.”

Honorable Mention: 

Arthur Kirkland (Al Pacino) – … And Justice For All

I love some of Dan's choices too, especially Lt. Daniel Kaffee (A Few Good Men) and Andrew Beckett from (Philadelphia - throw in Denzel Washington's supporting performance as well).
This scene from Philadelphia is simply phenomenal:


Some how Chris and I both left off Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner) from Oliver Stone's JFK.
I don't know how it happened considereing we both love JFK and still discuss it . . . constantly.
This was pointed out to me via my brother, in the comments section.
He's an actual lawyer and I'm sure will not let me live down this embarrassment.
We'll call Jim Garrison #1A and close the case faster than you can say,"Warren Commission".
Also, Honorable Mention For Dean Andrews (John Candy):

Those Are The Lists!
Thanks For Reading and Please Follow Us On Twitter For Daily Movie News: @NorthSouthFilm


  1. Ok, here are my top 5.

    5) Jake Brigance (Matthew McConaughey) - A Time to Kill
    Chris got this one right. Big payoff for one great line, "Now imagine she's white." in a solid movie all around. This performance was better than his other lawyerly roles in Amistad and The Lincoln Lawyer

    4) District Attorney Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner) - JFK
    I'm not sure how this one didn't make any of Dan's lists, but any time you mix Kevin Costner with a presidential conspiracy theory, I'm in. Back and to the Left!

    3) Michael Clayton (Groege Clooney) - Michael Clayton
    Most lawyers do their work outside the courtroom, and Michael Clayton was no exception. He was a high profile "fixer" who was a little too high profile, but outsmarted every other attorney around. This almost makes up for his barely watchable lawyer role in Intolerable Cruelty.

    2) Frank Galvin (Paul Newman) - The Verdict
    A drunk trying to make good with one final big legal score. Old school and well played. He and the movie got nominated for everything.

    Lt. Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) - A Few Good Men
    The biggest no-doubter for this list since Atticus Finch. A lawyer who does his best thinking while holding a baseball bat? Right up my alley. He had a great foe in the log-book-doctoring Col. Nathan R. Jessep, and he brings the pain when he levies the harshest insult possible for Kevin Bacon; "You're a lousy softball payer, Jack!"

    Honorable mention:

    Jan Schlichtmann (John Travolta) - A Civil Action
    Sadly, he can't make my top five, because he's not even the best lawyer in his own movie. The older and wiser Robert Douvall was the most talented lawyer in the room, and the movie is based on a true story. It was was Erin Brokovich before Erin Brokovich.

    Shen Yuelin (Bai Ling) - Red Corner
    Ok, ok, the movie isn't that amazing, and neither was her acting, but she did have to deal with a completely corrupt court and government conspiracy, and she won. She puts her family name and her career on the line for Richard Gere, that has to be worth something, right?

    Gene Hackman - He was much better than his daughter in A Civil Action, and was a pretty great corrupt jury consultant (likely an attorney) in Runaway Jury.

    1. I agree that Jim Garrison was huge omission, Paul Newman's Frank Galvin was my honorable mention but I cut him out at the last second, and I completely forgot about Michael Clayton, would have been a worthy inclusion as well.
      - Chris

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