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Friday, October 19, 2007

The Big Gulp

Probably like other lawyers, I cannot watch any of the T.V. lawyer programs. "L.A. Law" irked me when I was a public defender because I couldn’t afford their suits or even their haircuts, much less the snazzy offices they worked & played around in.

Being in criminal law, the crime / law shows were worse torture. Even supposedly gritty ones like "N.Y.P.D. Blue" and "Homicide" rankled.

My loved ones banned me from movies on the subject after "The Verdict," when I gagged on my Big Gulp in so many scenes that I needed a Heimlich to survive.

So why did I rent "Fracture"? Anthony Hopkins & Ryan Gosling, two of my favorites outsmarting each other, that was the hook.

And I wasn’t disappointed by their scenes together — the brilliant, sly defendant vs. the young, slick D.A. Hopkins and Gosling were fine.

But the plot’s turns that depend on The Law had me laughing and gagging again. The suspense and the payoffs rely on two bits of legalisms that are completely bogus.

The judge throws out a signed confession because one of the officers in the room had been having a secret love affair with the victim, the wife of the guy who confesses that he shot her. I could swallow the melodramatic stretch of this unlikely event. That's not what bothered me. But the law is wrong. No judge would find such a confession to be coerced on that evidence. Nope, uh-uh. Never happen in any court in the U.S.

The second supposedly surprising legal twist is that after the brilliant defendant is acquitted of attempted murder of his now comatose wife, he signs papers that get her plugs pulled and she dies. He thinks double jeopardy will prevent his re-trial. Uh-uh. Wrong again.

This was the same plot blunder made by an Ashley Judd film a few years ago callled "Double Jeopardy". Ashley was convicted of killing her husband when he vanished from their boat and while in prison, she discovers that he is still alive. She is released and goes to find him, confronts him and kills him, getting away with it because as we all know, "you can’t be punished twice for the same crime." Nope. Sorry. Not true. Never has been true. The law would simply apologize for its first mistake and lock you up again.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I get it that shortcuts and contrived plot devices are sometimes necessary to make a story work. I don’t mind it if the inaccuracies are incidental to the main point. But when it is the Big Twisteroo or when the movie is intended as a commentary on "The Legal System," artistic licenses should be revoked.


  1. the most annoying thing about those plot devices is that even if the point of the film is not to be a critique of the legal system, audiences nevertheless leave the film righteously indignant at how stupid/sloppy/unjust the system is, thanks to whatever inane contrivance the twist depended upon. i suspect it's because in most other areas of life, which people know based on experience, audiences are adept at picking out obvious lies - if a character tumbled down a mountainside and came up without a bruise, audiences would cry foul. but when it comes to the law, relatively few people (even lawyers, i suspect!) are well-versed or thoughtful enough to know the difference between reality and utter bullshit. yet ignorance has never prevented anyone from having an opinion and that's why audiences leave a film like THE VERDICT furious at the injustices of our 'system' without ever stopping to think maybe it's not the system that's to blame, but the screenwriter!

  2. True. I've talked films with teachers, doctors, cops, athletes, and hookers. All bitch about films about subjects they know about in the same tone of annoyance. Even writers who claim to be part of the profession "cheat" in this way. Film bios & histories are notorious for this. But such is the power of film, TV, and pop culture in general that the film becomes the truth. Ask Oliver Stone & John Ford.