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My Favorite Courtroom Movies

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My Favorite Courtroom Movies


Being an attorney, I have an attraction to movies that revolve around lawyers or courtrooms. It is often entertaining to watch how the realities of litigation and law are blurred,butchered and disregarded altogether in the name of entertainment or dramatic license.

Here is the list of my personal favorite courtroom movies. It is not meant to be a definitive list of all-time great courtroom movies. For a movie to be on my list  it has to be something I have seen within the last 5 years.   If the movie predates that and I have not seen it in the last five years, then it was not entertaining enough for me to see it again.  There are also movies that revolve around lawyers but I do not view as courtroom movies such as Twelve Angry MenThe Firm, The Client The Pelican Brief and Michael Clayton.   If I say a movie is technically good from a courtroom perspective I am judging the overall portrayal to the layman and not passing judgment on every little evidentiary/trial fau paux.

Movies like Liar Liar, My Cousin Vinny and Legally Blonde are hilarious. I did not include comedies. The reason is that no matter how funny the movie may be, there is really no character or individuality. They all basically revolving around making courtroom dialogue humorous

To Kill A Mockingbird:   On every top ten list there is.  It is an especially interesting movie in light of the recent Supreme Court ruling re-affirming the bar of capital punishment rape cases.  Atticus Finch, a depression era, small town Alabama lawyer agrees to defend a young black man who is accused of raping a white woman.  His friends and others in the community try to get Atticus to pull out of the trial, but he decides to go ahead.  If you have seen this movie, you should also watch Ghosts Of Mississippi. There are some interesting parallels and comparisons to be made.

Fracture:  It took me a while to see Fracture. When I finally saw it I found it fascinating.  The great performance of Anthony Hopkins aside, the movie had me more engrossed in the legal issues presented than the plot drama.  Would double jeopardy prevent a person from being tried for murder after being found not-guilty for the attempted murder of the same person?  Would the various confessions given by Anthony Hopkin’s character been excluded?  Fracture is an amalgamation of about ten different Law And Order episodes. This is one of the few movies where the legal issues in themselves kept my attention.  If interested here is a great summary of how these legal issues might play out in real life.

The Verdict: This is my favorite courtroom movie of all time. I can watch it over and over. Paul Newman in my opinion gives his greatest acting performance. What lawyer out there cannot identify with getting that one big case that will cure what ails the human condition?  A case that that not only redeems society but redeems the down and out alcoholic attorney played by Newman.   He battles a crappy case, biased judge, reluctant witnesses and a crooked law firm defending the Catholic Church. Not great technically from a courtroom perspective but you get so sucked into Paul Newman’s character that you completely disregard any tactics that would be questionable in real life. David vs. Goliath courtroom movies are a dime a dozen and only work if they bring you into the story so you become David. Watch this movie and you will be David for two hours.

The Rainmaker. Based on the book of the same title by John Grisham.   Same David and Goliath script but with a much more technically correct courtroom feel. This is one of the few Grisham books that translates well to the big screen. This time the young inexperienced attorney representing the poor family unable to speak for themselves up against the big bad insurance company. How do you not get sucked into Matt Damon’s character? The young attorney with no money trying his first case again up again the big time corrupt defense firm. Are there any courtroom movies out there that put defense firms in a positive light? The only people in this country who do not want to put a whop ass on a big bad insurance company are the people who work for the insurance company. One of the better courtroom movies from a technical perspective, great storyline. By the time the movie is over you want to go hire a lawyer to sue an insurance company, any insurance company….

A Few Good Men. You have to get past the fact that the whole movie hinges on the star witness, a Marine Corps General played by Jack Nicholson suddenly collapsing like a used air bag under cross examination,handing the defense its’ case. The odds of this happening in real life?   Play the Powerball Lottery this week.   You have a better shot.  Jack had to give it up under cross to make the movie work and boy does his performance make it work!  It’s a great movie.  One of those movies worth watching just to watch every scene with Jack Nicholson.  A serviceable performance by Tom Cruise as the under-dog unappreciated and initially apathetic military defense attorney.  Watch it for Jack though.

A Civil Action: Based on the book “A Civil Action”.  It is a true story. The underdog attorney, real life attorney Jan Schlichtmann up against the big bad corporate giants who are spilling toxic substances into the drinking water of Woburn, Massachusetts causing cancer clusters in the children.  I don’t want to give away the entire story but you have an attorney coming to understand himself at the cost of everything he once was, morally, financially, emotionally. I warn you that this is a SLOW movie. It is very deliberate as is the very long book. It needs to be to work. It works in that it is deliberate but never boring. You will come away from this movie with a better understanding of the frustrations that many attorneys face in trying to do the right thing and getting so sucked into to trying to do the right thing that you lose sight of what the right thing really is.  John Travolta gives a great performance as Jan Schlichtmann He brings you right into his character to such a degree that you hang on each work and move quickly through any slow parts of the movie. Interesting paradox here. Robert Duvall is portrayed as an honest defense attorney for the corporate giant when in reality the defense firm involved destroyed and hid evidence.

Amistad: This movie is not for everyone. It is slow. It is hard to follow. It involves a mutiny on a slave ship traveling towards the coast of the United States. The story revolves around the trial of the slaves who led the revolt. I can sum up my review this way: Did watch the HBO mini-series John Adams? Then watch this movie. Why? John Quincy Adams, the son of Second President John Adams Jr. was the lawyer who defended the slaves who had revolted and killed their captors.  Good performances by Matthew McConaughey and Anthony Hopkins as John Quincy Adams. This slave controversy in this case became a prelude to The Civil War.

Philadelphia. This is the first big star motion picture that I am aware of that addresses AIDS discrimination.  Great performance by Tom Hanks as a big city Philadelphia lawyer with AIDS. His law firm discovers his condition and cans him.   Denzel Washington is great as the stereotypical ambulance chaser who finds a conscience and a cause. I don’t think this is a very good movie from a technical standpoint.  Both lawyers make too many speeches The court testimony about Hank’s characters sexual orientation and sexual habits would never come into evidence as not being relevant. They put it in the movie for dramatic purposes and it works for that purpose It can however give the laymen the impression that if you make such a claim your sex life will be put out there for all to see and that’s just not true.

Miracle on Thirty Fourth Street (The 1947 Original) The existence of Santa Clause on trial? How could this not be on my list?

Ghosts of Mississippi:  A movie about the 1994 trial of  Byron De La Beckwith for the 1963 assassination of the 60s civil rights leader Medgar Evers.  De La Beckwith had been tried twice with each trial(with all white juries) ending in a mistrial.  He is tried for the third and final time 30 years later.  He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. De La Beckwith died in prison in 2001. He was 80 years old. The trial made national news as one of the longest delays between arrest and final trial in United States history. It is also widely regarded as historically symbolic of the transition of Mississippi to more progressive views on racial equality.  This is an unappreciated movie with an under-appreciated performance by Alec Baldwin as the district attorney determined to get justice but facing huge evidentiary obstacles and  initial resistance by Medger’s widow, Myrlie Evers, played by Whoopie Goldberg. Evers later went on to become the national head of the NAACP.


Judgment at Nuremberg: The first film to address the trial of the Nazi’s accused of war crimes after World War II otherwise known as The Nuremberg Trials. I am frankly surprised this has not been re-done with a current day all star cast. I think it would do well.

Primal Fear This movie has absolutely absurd courtroom dialogue but the story line and performances by Edward Norton and Richard Gere are so good that you really don’t care.

Music Box This is one of the few movies dealing with the issues of aging former Nazis and Nazi sympathizers who committed war crimes living in the United States.  Jessica Lange and Armin Mueller-Stah give great performances. The movie is based on the true story of John Demjanjuk.   While the premise of a daughter representing her father on trial with such high stakes is a stretch, it works well here.  Jessica’s emotional opening statement is also unrealistic and inadmissible. The movie is incredibly moving on all levels. You are torn between her father as a loving grandfather and a brutal murderer guilty of terrible war crimes. In an interesting twist of life imitating art, the father of Joe Eszterhas who wrote the screenplay, was accused of writing anti-Semitic propaganda before and during World War II. Like the character in Music Box, his father denied being the person who wrote these materials. Mr. Ezterhas denies knowing anything about his father’s past at the time he wrote the screenplay. There is a great article about this that can be read here.

Class Action This movie is based on the Ford Pinto Rear End End Explosion cases. Gene Hackman is great as the both idealistic and cynical plaintiff’s attorney going after the huge car maker. Once again a defense firm is portrayed as as unethical. They hide then destroy key evidence in the case. The conduct of the character played by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, while portrayed as noble in the movie would have probably resulted in her disbarment in real life. She knows a partner in her firm has destroyed evidence. She tells the other side(who happens to be her father) about it. She also gives them a corroborating witness not previously known about.  Noble maybe but career ending absolutely.

Presumed Innocent This is one of the great courtroom movies of the last 20 years both in style and drama. Great performances by both Harrison Ford and Brian Dennehy. A show stealing supporting performance is turned in by the late  Raul Julia. The movie also does fairly well on a courtroom technical basis. One dramatic license taken is the hammer which needed to be taken. The statement that the police wouldn’t look for it because if they don’t find it , that would be brought up in court is just silly. They don’t look for something because they might not find it?   Search warrants are executed to find evidence, not to leave it.

And Justice For All. Al Pacino’s great courtroom flick. (I refuse to put The Devil’s Advocate on there) The movie is technically ludicrous and it is supposed to be!  That is the whole point. The point is that the legal system is ludicrous and often forces attorneys to choice between morality and victory. While the drama is exaggerated the message is right on. The below video says it all.

Inherit The Wind: As strange as it would seem today, at one time it was illegal in many states to teach the theory of  evolution in the class room. Today with the separation of church and state we have come 180 degrees.  It can be argued that there is a similar controversy present day regarding the  teaching of  Intelligent Design in public schools.  Inherit The Wind is a dramatization of the real life Scopes Money Trial. Great performance if not over the top by Spencer Tracy.

That’s my list. Are there other good courtroom movies?  Of course. These were the ones that I can watch over and over. Some other courtroom movies I found entertaining but didn’t make my watch over and over list are,

Rules of Engagement

Hart’s War.

Red Corner.

Please feel free to comment and make your case for your favorite courtroom movies and why they are great.

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I Want Jessica Alba To Make Me Sweat

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I Want Jessica Alba To Make Me Sweat


I am always looking for new ways to stay in shape. I recently came across an article in the New York Times touting the new hot thing in personal training workouts. The new rage appears to be customized video and mp3 workouts you can download to your IPOD. The article was from 2006 but I frankly had not heard of this. My Ipod contains my own mix of songs soundly reflecting the fact that I am inescapably stuck in the 80′s.

Having moved into my 40′s with the inevitable slip into the “dark side” in the ability to stay in shape, I was just the gullible , desperate fool at the end of his rope these services were designed for. I am willing to try anything and everything to recapture that lost flat stomach that will never been seen again except in photos stored ironically on my Ipod. These Ipod workouts were designed for the guy that looks at his vacuum cleaner and sees “at home liposuction”. I guess that’s me because I clicked on one of the websites.

This company was offering for 29.95 a month audio and video personal training workouts from a world class “celebrity trainer” that you download to your video IPod or your mp3 player with sound only. Each workout is custom designed just for you. I can just imagine this celebrity trainer going through the questionnaire from Sally in Wichita Falls and recording his grunts and yells into a video or sound byte. ONE MORE REP SALLY! DO IT SALLY! YOU ARE ALMOST THERE! She may forget whether she is in the gym or the bedroom.

If you have video capability you can watch Mr. celebrity trainer make sneering, disapproving faces at you to further motivate you while you listen in your headphones while thinking you could have got that for free at home from your wife or husband without the 29.95 a month.

Research show that there are quite a few of these Ipod trainer companies sprouting up. This is such a goofy idea that these guys will probably make millions. They have invented the”Bowflex of the Ipod”. You will spend about month of listening to some guy you have never met and never will meet grunt and groan and encourage you as you clumsily hold your IPod screen up in front of you while you work out. You will spend a month listening to the same motivational spiel over and over. Your workout will then be archived to your computer as your Bowflex is to your garage never to be heard from again except at your next garage sale. You will also forget to cancel the membership for another 6 months so that’s another 180 bucks they get from you for mass creating a 40 minute workout that I would guess only changes variably for every person and is done by a computer program.

These guys are hoping you will focus on the knee-jerk response that 29.95 a month is better than paying 100 bucks or more a session for a personal trainer. They forget that the very reason personal trainers work is that they change it up, get in your face, come with a different personality every day sweat on you, piss you off , tell you who they are sleeping with, tell you how many girls in the gym they have dated. They tell you who everyone else in the gym is sleeping with. In addition to trainers, they are pimps, hairdressers and bartenders all rolled in to one and if they happen to get you in better shape that is an added bonus. Why would we want to replace them with a video celebrity that isn’t going to give you the Hollywood TMZ type gossip?

People get personal trainers to get in shape or stay in shape. People keep personal trainers because of everything else I just talked about. What classifies someone as a “celebrity trainer.”? Is there a certification for that? Do you pay more for for the video if they train people on the “A list” versus the “D List”? One man’s celebrity is another’s wannabe or has-been.

If they wants me to go for the celebrity trainer hook, they had better get Arnold Schwarzenegger involved. They would do better with “Celebrity Tanning”. When you step out of the booth, depending on your sexual preference, you have Jessica Alba or George Clooney on a video screen telling you how great you look. I would be more motivated in the gym by an iPod video of Jessica Alba saying “one more set and I’m yours tonight”. This would be more motivating than grunts of some generic fitness geek I never heard of.

It takes me back to my early days in Dallas when I had a roomie I was trying to help get in shape. I put him on the “fat pig” diet. Every morning before I left for work I would put a note on the refrigerator telling him he was a fat disgusting slob, and to get that pizza slice out of his mouth. It worked great! He lost 15 lbs in about a month. Then one night he stabbed me in my sleep. Maybe I should go for that celebrity trainer certification.

©2008 Brian Cuban

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GRAND JURY MANIA!


It looks like former New England Patriot film guy turned government rat Matt Walsh may be ready to spill his guts to the federal government. No quite the Valachi Papers or Donnie Brasco but another sports scandal distraction for us all to roll our eyes out and watch the government cash registers “chi-ching” away at all the wasted tax dollars. If I read one thing about a congressional investigation or grand jury subpoenas with regard to the New England Patriots taping scandal I’m going to puke. I’m starting to suspect these federal prosecutors and elected officials get a “per subpoena” bonus… Barry Bonds perjury trial, Roger Clemens suspected perjury, Steroid Hearings… Every time I pick up the papers some grand jury or Senate Committee is being convened to spend millions of dollars in taxpayer money on issues that are absolutely trivial in the grand scheme of issues that affect our lives….

Meanwhile, Wesley Snipes thumbs his nose at the Federal government to the tune of 38 million dollars and gets away with it! (At least the criminal part) 

As sure as I am sitting here, a year from now we are going to be reading about another moronic investigation, about Congressional testimony, who will testify and whether Bill Belechick will be indicted for perjury……. Go get him guys! I did read on TMZ that Bill Belechick used to be a CIA operative and is currently being questioned in the CIA tape destruction scandal. He has not been heard from in 24 hours and the rumor is circulating that he has been “renditioned” to the site of Jimmy Hoffa’s grave

I did hear that there is a new NBC primetime  reality series starting this fall entitled: I AM THE TARGET OF A GRAND JURY INVESTIGATION………  They are trying to locate Jimmy Hoffa to be the first guest star

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DATA PINBALL


You see it every day just about every mainstream and tabloid news site. Nothing stays a secret. Just ask Britney Spears……. A piece of information/data put into play will at first flow on its own inertia to its closest intended point, after that watch out! That piece of data is then enters “data pinball”. The flipper hits it and while the intent is to send it in a certain direction, you have no idea where it is going to end up. Each time it hits a “bumper” it is sent off in a whole new direction with new force and inertia. Theoretically this will go on as long as someone “bumpers” or “flips” it again in a whole different direction…….. 

What is ironic is that the data itself will never change form but what finally makes it into the mainstream depending on where it ‘bounces” is never conveys the original message………  Just ask George Karl’s attorney Brett Adams of the law firm of Adams Babner and Gitlitz who sent the owner of the web site FireGeorgeKarl.com (the coach of the Denver Nuggets) his infamous “I will sue you into bankruptcy” email.   When the email finally came to rest on that same website… the message was not that the website was posting anything improper but that Brett Adams was an arrogant jerk…..   I don’t know if he is or not. I have never met him. That is the danger of Data Pinball…..

 The “data pinball” is sent off to hit other bumpers, setting off all new bells and whistles, racking new “data pinball” points for its new owner…..So why do we keep doing such stupid things with our data!

Whether it is emails, photos, text messages etc…… A whole blog could be written about famous people and people who received unwanted “fame” as a direct result of not thinking about this before they hit send on their email, text message or voicemail rant or secret affair rendezvous….. From the highest level of technology down to the good old telephone. Just ask Alec Baldwin……  His data started on good old telephone lines and ended up pinballing all over the world…..     His voicemail visitation rant to his daughter will be on YouTube until YouTube is no more or hell freezes over….Who knows when it will stop if ever……. Embarrassment is just the least of the damage; careers and marriages are ended…. 

We have all done it. I am just as guilty. There have been many times where I sent that text, or email and just seconds after send wished to hell I hadn’t done it…… Too late I now have to assume those texts or emails are stored somewhere just waiting to be pinballed somewhere at some point in time for whatever reason and when least expect it…… Will there be an unknown and timeless price to pay for that instantaneous moment of adrenaline gratification I sought when I hit send and patted myself on the back for letting that person have it…..

Ah yes…… The game of data pinball……. Where’s my quarter……….

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