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Literally Speaking: Just Cause April 1, 2008

Posted by Ian W in : Film Reviews, Thriller , 1 comment so far

To date John Katzenbach has had three of his books adapted for the big screen - The Mean Season (1985) Hart’s War (2002) and in the middle this legal/detective/serial killer thriller from 1995 (sadly no one has yet filmed The Traveller which is a book just crying out for the big screen). This is probably the best of the three and is a solid, if unexceptional, thriller.

The plot probably won’t keep you guessing to long, once you realise there’s a twist (and you will fairly early if you’ve seen more than a couple of these) it’s not a hard one to see coming, but it still manages to entertain. Sean Connery is as commanding as ever, although his liberal-do-gooder-lawyer, Paul Armstrong, is a little more restrained and intellectual than his usual characters, which makes for a pleasant change. If Sheriff Tanny Brown at first appears to be your typical corrupt cop Laurence Fishburne at least manages to add a little more depth, and reason, to him, with hardly anything to work with other than a short scene with his children.

It’s not the two leads that are the problem, it’s the rest of the cast, although the fault isn’t with there performances. There are just too many familiar faces, practically every part, no matter how small, is played by someone recognisable - Kate Capshaw is Sean’s wife (dirty old man did I hear someone say?), Ned Beatty is an ineffectual defence attorney, Daniel J. Travanti is a prison warden (who hardly gets a line of dialogue), Kevin McCarthy gets even fewer lines than Travanti, and playing the Armstrong’s daughter is a fresh faced Scarlett Johansson. Even Blair Underwood, as the condemned man Connery comes to the aid of, was at the time a regular on TV show L.A. Law. It almost feels like this is a three hour mini-series cut down to feature length, with all these actors actually having something to do in the full length version.

One actor I didn’t mention above was the amazing Ed Harris, who makes what is essentially a redneck Hannibal Lecter into the films most compelling character, an insane murderer who gets inside Armstrong’s head, making him very uncomfortable indeed. There scenes together are the only times the film becomes more that just standard thriller fare.

Arne Glimcher’s direction lacks any sparkle and adds to the feeling that this is a TV movie with a big name cast. It passes the time but will hardly linger in your memory longer than it takes you to walk over to the DVD player and eject the disc and I doubt you’ll feel compelled to put it in again anytime soon, I know I won’t.

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