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A Time to Kill(1996)
John Grisham's bestseller A Time to Kill hits the screen with incendiary force, directed by Joel Schumacher (Batman Forever, The Client). Sandra Bullock, Samuel L. Jackson, Matthew McConaughey and Kevin Spacey portray the principals in a murder trial that brings a small Mississippi town's racial tensions to the flashpoint. Amid a frenzy of activist marches, Klan terror, media clamor and brutal riots, an unseasoned but idealistic young attorney mounts a stirring courtroom battle for justice.
For more about A Time to Kill and the A Time to Kill Blu-ray release, see A Time to Kill Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on February 14, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Samuel L. Jackson, Sandra Bullock, Kevin Spacey, Brenda Fricker, Oliver Platt
Director: Joel Schumacher
» See full cast & crew
A Time to Kill Blu-ray Review
Grisham's finest translates well to the big screen...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, February 14, 2009
Of the many films based on author John Grisham's legal fiction -- The Firm, The Pelican Brief, The Chamber, The Rainmaker, and Runaway Jury, among others -- director Joel Schumacher's A Time to Kill is not only my favorite, but arguably one of the most sharply-written, smartly-cast courtroom dramas of the '90s. Notoriously uneven screenwriter Akiva Goldsman rights his Batman Forever wrongs with a script that's more akin to his work on A Beautiful Mind and Cinderella Man than Batman & Robin. Schumacher delivers an inspiring ensemble that includes Matthew McConaughey, Kevin Spacey, Samuel L. Jackson, Sandra Bullock, both Keifer and Donald Sutherland, Chris Cooper, Oliver Platt, Ashley Judd, Charles S. Dutton, and the late, great Patrick McGoohan. And the performances... well, let's just say the actors prove they're more than up to the task.
A solemn and intense Samuel L. Jackson plays Carl Lee Haley, a rural Mississippi family man who takes the law into his own hands when he kills two men responsible for the rape and attempted hanging of his ten-year old daughter (Raeven Larrymore Kelly). Unfortunately for Carl, a local deputy (Chris Cooper) is also wounded in the attack after a stray bullet from Haley's gun misses its mark. When the county's district attorney, Rufus Buckley (Kevin Spacey), seeks the death penalty, a young lawyer named Jake Brigance (Matthew McConaughey), a local divorce lawyer (Oliver Platt), and a feisty law student (Sandra Bullock) come together and agree to defend Carl. As Buckley presents a damning prosecution to an all-white jury, Jake and his colleagues have to find a way to overcome the prejudice dominating the community and convince twelve people that Haley shouldn't be convicted of his crimes.
I've read more than a few disparaging reviews for A Time to Kill over the years -- USA Today called it a "riotously cluttered melodrama," The Washington Post described it as "the moral equivalent of a cockfight," and the Razzie Awards nominated it for Worst Written Film Grossing Over $100 Million -- but, to be honest, I simply can't wrap my head around the reason behind such vehement criticism. Haley's tale is a somber, all-too-relevant exploration of racism, bigotry, and justice that moves me each and every time I watch it. The trial itself is merely a catalyst that brings out the worst in an otherwise peaceful community; the real story is focused on the hatred brewing in a group of people who fail to grasp the state of affairs as they truly are. Political leanings aside, it's tough to deny that such archaic views have faded away -- anyone who watched as campaign rally attendees frothed at the mouth and screamed obscenities at the thought of Barack Obama being elected president knows full well that racism is alive and well, regardless of how much our society likes to pretend it's been left in the past. In that regard, A Time to Kill remains an important film; one that manages to portray a potent cultural cancer as a dormant but dangerous factor in our modern lives.
Of course, it wouldn't matter how acutely Grisham or Goldsman examined these realities if Schumacher's cast hadn't given themselves to their roles. McConaughey finds a nice balance between outrage and desperation, allowing his character to wield lofty moral truisms without succumbing to sensationalism or sentimentality. If it weren't for the rather contrived budding temptation that develops between Jake and Ellen, McConaughey's projection of integrity and fortitude would have single-handedly kept the story surging along. Spacey is a smarmy counterweight, infusing Grisham's district attorney with just enough pride and prejudice to make us question his motives without tossing him in with the Klu Klux Klan protesters assembled outside the courthouse. The rest of the actors match McConaughey and Spacey's at-times heated face-offs with full command of their craft. Platt provides comic relief, but not so much that it undermines the man beneath the clownish exterior. Bullock offers equal parts anger and impulse that lends her character authenticity, emerging as a strong female lead second only to Judd's portrayal of Brigance's wife. I could even go on and on about the film's supporting cast, all of whom bring their all to the project.
A Time to Kill isn't perfect, but it is powerful. By the time McConaughey delivers his rousing closing argument, it's clear that the film isn't content with settling on neat-n-tidy conclusions or clichéd subplots, offering instead a series of memorable performances, genuine wit and intelligence, and exacting dissections of several controversial subjects that the citizens of this nation continue to mull over to this day. My suggestion? Ignore the Schumacher naysayers and give this one a chance. I'm not saying it'll lodge in your brain as deeply as it did in mine, but I'm confident that I'll be revisiting A Time to Kill for years.
A Time to Kill Blu-ray, Video Quality
A Time to Kill features a warm and inviting 1080p/VC-1 transfer that outshines most other Warner catalog releases of late. With bold, summery colors, the palette is quite striking, lending itself to vivid primaries, natural (albeit slightly oversatured) skintones, and deep blacks. Contrast is spot on, enhancing the already filmic image with a dose of convincing depth and dimensionality. It's also nice to see that fine detail has been vastly improved in the years since the soft and murky days of standard definition. Edges are sharp, the notes strewn about Brigance's desk are legible, and background objects like tightly packed books are more perusable than they once were. I did encounter a few soft shots along the way (mainly during McConaughey's closing argument when the camera turns to other faces in the crowded courtroom), but I blame the original print rather than the transfer itself. In fact, in a direct comparison, the Blu-ray disc throughly trounced its DVD counterpart, leaving little doubt as to whether the transfer was worth the cost of admission. Noise reduction (DNR) and edge enhancement have been intermittently applied, but I'm relieved to report that the studio's use of digital manipulation is minor and unobtrusive this time around. Distant skin and fabric textures are still relatively refined, halos are thin and oftentimes not present at all, and overall clarity remains dramatically improved. Thankfully, the cluttered, noisy transfer of yesteryear is gone, leaving a polished, artifact-free beauty in its place. The image is extremely clean -- I didn't catch sight of any distracting mosquito noise, macroblocking, crush, banding, or aliasing.
In the end, videophiles may muster a complaint or two, but A Time to Kill stacks up well alongside other notable catalog releases on the market. While Warner's digital manipulation suggests the transfer isn't entirely faithful to its source, fans should still be more than excited to see how wonderful the film looks in high definition.
A Time to Kill Blu-ray, Audio Quality
A Time to Kill tops off its AV package with a stirring Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track that effortlessly draws fans into its remarkable soundfield with a believable approximation of several Mississippi locales. First and foremost, dialogue is clean and nicely prioritized across the front channels -- testimonies actually offer a rewarding listening experience as hushed whispers and crowd chatter erupts from every direction anytime the case takes an unexpected turn. Even when Haley's case is business as usual, the sound designers have populated their interiors with a meticulous soundscpae. To that end, subtle use of the rear speakers results in properly enhanced courtroom acoustics, a variety of lingering echoes in the meeting halls, and the distant presence of a naturalistic orchestra in the open Southern fields. More importantly, pans are smooth and transparent, supportive low-end bass tones are reliable and robust, and a surprising number of standout sonic sequences remind this conversational affair what it's capable of. I had to deal with some lackluster directionality in a few key sequences and ignore some third act normalization irregularities, but, all things considered, A Time to Kill sounds just as good as it looks.
A Time to Kill Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Like previous DVD releases of A Time to Kill, the Blu-ray edition doesn't feature any behind-the-scenes material whatsoever. All it includes is a standard definition theatrical trailer and a digital copy of the film.
A Time to Kill Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
While I'm forever miffed that A Time to Kill has yet to earn a proper feature-laced special edition, this Blu-ray release is definitely worth some serious consideration. It not only boasts one of the best Grisham adaptations committed to film, it doubles down with an excellent video transfer and a shockingly strong-n-subtle TrueHD track. That's right, dear readers. You can finally toss your aging DVD copy in the trash... this is one high definition presentation that's strong enough to please almost any fan and even convert a few detractors along the way.
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A Time to Kill Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Warner Announces Two John Grisham Films - November 26, 2008
Warner Home Video has announced that they will release two John Grisham inspired films 'The Pelican Brief' and 'A Time to Kill' for Blu-ray on February 10th. Both films will come on BD-25s featuring 1080p VC-1 accompanied by 5.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtracks. The sole ...
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