Second time director Arne Glimcher (THE MAMBO KINGS) in 1995
decided to make a movie, JUST CAUSE, that looks like a combination of
SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, DEAD MAN WALKING, and SHAFT. It is the least
subtle movie I have seen in a long time. Populated with cliched
characters and fast paced, it does entertain, but it demands a high
tolerance for unbelievability.
As the show opens, Harvard professor Paul Armstrong (Sean Connery)
is speaking against capital punishment in a debate. He seems to be
winning until the other debater effectively raises the issue of the
victims. After the debate a mother comes to Armstrong to ask him to
get her son off of death row. Although he has not practiced law in 25
years, he agrees to investigate the case of a man accused of brutally
raping and murdering a seven year old girl.
He finds that the defendant, Bobby Earl (Blair Underwood), is an
ex-heroin dealer who cleaned up his act, became his High School class
valedictorian, and then got a full academic scholarship to Cornell.
There is that old suspension of disbelief problem.
Earl claims he gave his "confession" to the rape and murder only
after a beating by the police and the playing of Russian roulette in
his mouth by Officer Tanny Brown (Laurence Fishburne). Soon the police
and the whole town seem about to tar and feather Armstrong for asking
question about something that happened eight years ago and which they
want to forget.
Complicating things more is a mysterious serial murder, Blair
Sullivan (Ed Harris), who is also on death row and who may have some
important evidence. In the Hannibal Lecter role, Harris give either a
brilliant or an excessively ridiculous performance. You choose. One
could make an argument either way.
In another implausible role, we have Kate Capshaw as Armstrong's
wife Laurie. It seems that Earl was charged the year before for
kidnapping a girl, and Laurie was the prosecutor. Of course these
charges were trumped up Earl tells us. Capshaw is totally
unconvincing, and this link between the two cases is a silly plot
So what is good about this absurd show? Several things actually.
Sean Connery is a fascinating and compelling actor. Here he gives an
excellent performance in a ridiculous movie. Fishburne (WHAT'S LOVE
GOT TO DO WITH IT) manages to take a bunch of stupid lines and somehow
make them worth hearing. His screen presence is amazing. Ultimately,
I even liked Harris as the uncontrollable psychopath.
Editor William Anderson keeps the movie going at a lightning pace.
The sounds of the swamp are menacing, and the gators are ready to chop
off legs in a flash. The cinematography (Lajos Koltai) is best when
shooting in the swamp. Eerie.
Although the script by Peter Stone and Jeb Stuart based on the
novel by John Katzenbach has all of the delicacy of a meat cleaver and
seems incapable of surprise, the show takes a sharp turn in the middle
that is a real jolt. On the whole the film ends up no more than an
unbelievable action picture with a few rewarding performances.
JUST CAUSE runs 1:42. It is rated R. There is no sex or nudity,
but there is violence, a few gory scenes, and some bad language. It
would be okay for most teenagers. I can not bring myself to recommend
JUST CAUSE, but you might find it enjoyable albeit totally
unbelievable. I give it **.
Copyright © 1996 Steve Rhodes