- Undoubtedly, many more cinephiles know the famous “You’re out of order!” Al Pacino line than the movie itself.
- Norman Jewison is at the helm here and he had directed some very fine films over the course of his career. He directed Denzel a few times (including The Hurricane in 1999), Moonstruck with Cher is perhaps his most popular (1987) but his best work was in the 1960s (The Cincinnati Kid, In the Heat of the Night, and The Thomas Crown Affair were all 1965-1968). Jewison probably takes third place here though in terms of credit for And Justice For All with the colorful script coming from Barry Levinson (and this is set in Baltimore like all of Levinson’s early work as director) and of course the volcanic work of Al Pacino in the lead. Pacino and Levinson (along with co-writer Valerie Curtin) were nominated at the Oscars.
- It has a sort of sitcom familiarity. The saxophone heavy score (feels straight out of 1980’s television) plays into that. Pacino plays Arthur Kirkland and there is a band of quirky characters (played by Jeffrey Tambor, Jack Warden and others) that in his life’s orbit. He is a lawyer, so the rest of these characters are other eccentric lawyers, clients, and judges. His grandfather is played by Lee Strasberg. Strasberg and Pacino working together again here after The Godfather: Part II. Strasberg (known best as Hyman Roth and as a legendary acting coach) only worked a handful of times on film. The film is largely plotless- moving from case to case as they progress.
- Pacino is a dynamo. He plays Kirkland as someone who is frustrated and unraveling. I think some of the inconsistencies in the character/performance are on purpose but still, there are scenes that are distracting with his trademark vocal volume fluctuations. It is a compliment to Pacino though that we still like Kirkland despite some of his inconsistencies and often smug, or superior, attitude.
- Famously, Pacino turned down roles in both Kramer vs. Kramer and Apocalypse Now for this (though I believe Coppola’s film would’ve been shot years before this). All of these films came out in 1979. Pacino’s run from 1971-1975 is legendary– but his work from 1976-1983 when he finally does Scarface is curious. He only does four films (Bobby Deerfield, this, Cruising, and Author! Author!) and all of them are a very retraining-order-level safe distance from the top 10 of the year.
- The film is about corruption—a rigged system. The film opens with children reading the pledge of allegiance.
- It is an easy two-hour watch. It moves quickly from case to case, from political drama to broader comedy. In one transition, a judge gets accused of rape, and then we are off on a comic (I think) helicopter ride with the suicidal judge (a different judge- and this is played for laughs) played by Jack Warden. In another transition, we are in the courtroom (again, rape is the case) and the prosecuting attorney played by Craig T. Nelson has a hilariously dumb (on purpose) football analogy.
- The writing takes big narrative leaps (Kirkland is forced to defend his mortal enemy or he’ll be disbarred) that is going to lose many people. This is not realism.
- There is plenty of room for some big acting from Pacino even before the famous six-minute closing argument monologue in the courtroom. This is more than a decade before Aaron Sorkin/Jack Nicholson’s “You can’t handle the truth” moment- this here is “I’m gonna get him”… and then a pause, and eventually the famous “You’re out of order! You’re out of order! The whole trial is out of order! They’re out of order!”
- Pacino’s Kirkland is so disillusioned by the system that he turns the courtroom into a farce and the scene works (there’s an entire paper to be written about acting “over the top” here about this film, scene and Pacino in general).
- I had to include this with a great “lumps” line- – “Almost as if he were scared of becoming too serious, Jewison alternates some incredibly powerful moments with breezy farce, and also proceeds to drown the whole thing under a sub-disco score. The result is a bit like finding lumps of condensed milk in your gravy.” https://www.timeout.com/movies/and-justice-for-all
- Recommend but not in the top 10 of 1979
This movie is cool but the best one from his 1977-1982 period is Cruising. Underrated.