Directed by Norman Jewison
Produced by Noman Jewison/Patrick Palmer
Written by Valarie Curtin/Barry Levinson
It’s easy to forget how great Al Pacino is or take his acting talent for granted because he’s been around for so long. That’s why I love the movies so much because when we start to forget we can always go back and watch an actor’s earlier performances and be reminded of why we fell in love with them. I recently watched “Angels In America” which I had never seen before as was utterly floored by Pacino’s performance in that one. And just last night I watched Pacino in “…and justice for all.” which I haven’t seen in about ten years. Once I got over the shock of how young and baby-faced Pacino looked I settled down and found myself truly enjoying this goofy movie which at times struck me as trying to be a sort of spiritual brother to “Network” and “The Hospital.” It doesn’t quite succeed mainly because it’s a good forty-five minutes before we get to the actual plot of the movie but at least until then we have solid performances and quirky, interesting characters to hold our attention
Arthur Kirkland (Al Pacino) is a Baltimore defense attorney. He may be the best one in the city to keep you out of jail but at the moment he’s the best lawyer in jail. He landed in the pokey for punching out Judge Fleming (John Forsythe) who is one of those judges who thinks it’s his God-given right to dispense justice as he sees fit. Fleming twists legal technicalities to screw with lawyers and their clients. One of Arthur’s clients, Jeff McCullagh (Thomas Waites) is an innocent man but because the evidence to prove his innocence was submitted three days late, Fleming won’t even look at it.
While Arthur is tearing out his hair trying to figure out a way to get Jeff out of jail he juggles other clients such as transgender Ralph Agee (Robert Christian) and serial womanizer Carl Travers (Dominic Chianese). He’s also trying to protect his neurotic partner Jay (Jeffrey Tambor) who is under investigation by the Ethics Board. It doesn’t help that Arthur is sleeping with Gail Packer, (Christine Lahti) Chairperson of the Board. Or does it? Arthur is also wondering what he’s going to do with his grandfather (Lee Strasberg) whose senility is becoming more advanced. And Arthur’s friend/mentor/father figure Judge Rayford (Jack Warden) has been demonstrating eccentric behavior such as carrying a loaded .45 automatic in court and may indeed be suicidal. If flying a helicopter without enough fuel to get where you’re going can be considered suicidal, that is.
A chance to help Jeff comes along when Judge Fleming is arrested and charged with the hideously brutal rape and assault of a young girl. Even though he hates his guts, Fleming wants Arthur to defend him. His reasoning is that the animosity between him and Arthur is well known so if Arthur defends him that can’t help but swing favor Fleming’s way. After all, if Fleming is being defended by a man who hates his guts then he must be innocent, right? Right?
As far as Arthur is concerned it doesn’t matter if Fleming did it or not. He shouldn’t be on the bench. But then Judge Rayford informs Arthur that Fleming has some potentially life-ending information about a past case of Arthur’s. So now it’s time for Arthur to choose his religion and see what he believes in; the law or justice?
“…and justice for all.” at times seems as if it’s going to be a straight courtroom drama, then a thriller, then comedy, then satire. It has elements of all of these, sure. And in the hands of a lesser director it might have been an unsatisfying mess. But Norman Jewison is most certainly not a lesser director and, in his hands, each of these elements are blended in such a way that they don’t overpower each other but on the other hand, there’s not enough of any of them. If that makes any sense. It’s not quite a comedy, not quite a satire, not quite a courtroom drama.
But mixing and matching so many elements at least ensures that you won’t be bored, I guarantee that. Al Pacino is a sheer delight to watch from start to finish and he’s backed up by a respectably solid supporting cast. Besides the ones already named we also have Craig T. Nelson as the prosecuting attorney, Charles Siebert, Sam Levene and in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him role, Joe Morton.
If you only know Al Pacino from his later roles, say from the 1990s until the present then you really should do yourself a favor and seek out his earlier roles besides “The Godfather” trilogy and “Scarface” and see where his incredibly well-deserved reputation began. “…and justice for all.” is an excellent place to start. Enjoy.