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This article is written by Yash Kapadia. This article enlists the best legal thrillers you can watch of the 21st Century. 

Introduction

Contrary to today’s popular belief, I strongly believe that nothing is more gripping and holds your attention than a classic courtroom drama. We are definitely far away from some of the cults like The Devil’s Advocate, 12 Angry Men, To Kill a Mocking Bird and Mississippi Burning, but the enigma and excitement of watching similar movies like these have not yet gone away.

The 2000s marked an era of legal movies with more plush offices, better courtrooms, fierce judges, better lawyers with even better suits, distinctively better screenplay and direction, and therefore we need to dismiss rumours of this genre’s demise or even being taken over by the web series culture. 

Through this article, we enumerate the top legal thriller movies from the last two decades one must watch if legal movies intrigue you. These movies are specimens being brought to life by the best of thespians of the movie industry. 

Fracture (2007)

Fracture is a legal thriller released in the year 2007. This movie stars the legendary two-time Academy Award winner Anthony Hopkins playing the role of the antagonist and Ryan Gosling bringing to life the role of a promising and upcoming district attorney.

This movie revolves around the story of a man (Hopkins) who shoots his unfaithful wife and confesses his crime and gets arrested. While representing his own self in the courtroom, he engages in an absolute battle of witticism and wordplay. The movie is bound to keep you guessing and imagining ways in which Hopkins tries to get away with a crime in the most fashionable manner by manipulating the law, but then enters “legal knowledge”. Towards the end of this movie, while one is holding onto the pillows of the couch comes a twist, leaving it in Gosling’s hands to figure it out. For the lawyers reading this, we’re talking about the words “double jeopardy”. 

If you are one of those who likes to have a rollercoaster of 1 hour 53 minutes along with intense acting and awaiting a thought-provoking end to a crime story, then this should top your list. Fracture is another movie where Anthony Hopkins plays a beautifully dark character who manipulates the law in unimaginable ways. Fracture is often regarded as one of the most under-rated legal crime thrillers of all time. One deserves to watch this cult. 

Just Mercy (2019)

Just Mercy is a biographical legal drama of justice and redemption released in 2019. This movie has a powerful star cast of Jamie Foxx, Michael B Jordan and Brie Larson. 

Just Mercy is based on the real-life true story of one Mr. Walter McMillian (played by Jamie Foxx), an African-American pulpwood worker from the US state of Alabama, who had been wrongfully convicted of murder and sentenced to death. McMillian with the help of an idealistic Harvard Law attorney Bryan Stevenson (played by Michael B Jordan), appeals his murder conviction. The film is based on a memoir of the same name, which is written by Bryan Stevenson himself. 

The plot revolves around racism in the US in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It gives prominence to how people in power pinned heinous crimes on dark-skinned or poor people without any evidence. Wrong judgements were passed as a result of bigoted mindsets and innocents were awarded death penalties. It is said that “Truth Alone Triumphs”. However, there is no one to bring out the truth until Bryan Stevenson desists from his flourishing career and takes it upon himself to save such innocent lives. He has full knowledge that going against the flow would be subject to huge challenges. Despite that, he doesn’t give up.

It is when Jordan meets Foxx it is learned that the entire case revolves around a testimony given by a convicted felon in exchange for a lenient sentence in his already pending trial. After Jordan meets him, he is convinced to testify in court of malice testimony presented and would be up for perjury charges as per law in the State of Alabama. With the turn of events with political power being a major catalyst, things come to a close when the testimony is submitted and a retrial of Foxx is approved and finally dismissed. 

Just Mercy is a must-must watch because of every truthful emotion translated by every character on the screen. Jamie Foxx does not cease to amaze, taking one more step forward in his creative talent and depth as an artist in the world of acting. As the credits rolled and the real Walter McMillian is revealed, it is pleasant to see how Foxx did such an excellent job transforming to look and behave like this man. The marriage of Jordan’s strength, humility, tenacity, vulnerability, and hope while facing untold psychological traumas throughout the film is brilliant. So many crucial scenes and layers of his journey and nature were applied to Bryan’s character. Jordan nailed the role and clearly chose a role that would challenge his growth as a method actor. 

If you are one of those who does not hold back to shed a tear looking at the atrocities faced by the underprivileged or economically backward people through manipulation of law and evidence, this movie is the real deal. 

It is in fact necessary to state that after decades of discrimination, the State of Alabama recently decided to get rid of the racist language from their constitution which promoted white supremacy.

The Lincoln Lawyer (2011)

This movie was released in the year 2011 starring an all-time favourite, Matthew McConaughey (the lead actor of Interstellar). Matthew plays the role of a criminal defence attorney, Mickey Haller who operates his office from the back of his chauffeur-driven Lincoln Town Car defending low-end criminals. 

This movie revolves around how Mickey is hired for a high profile case to defend Louis Roulet, a Beverly Hills playboy and the only son of a real estate lady mogul. Louis is accused of raping and beating a prostitute and charged with a death penalty. As any lawyer would, believing his client to be innocent, Haller soon finds out evidence that proves his own client’s guilt. This movie is a series of ups and downs faced by Haller and how he tackles every situation in order to safeguard his client from being held guilty until he takes the right path. 

A major duty of being a law-abiding lawyer is shown when Haller cross-examines the opposite party in a hard-hearted manner as he was legally obliged to defend his client, either guilty or not.

You may in all probability come to watch this movie for Matthew McConaughey but will surely stay for the mind-blowing performances of its supporting cast. This movie is a must-watch for viewers who are ready to go from 0 to 100 in quick time while watching elite performances by the cast. 

Bombshell (2019)

As the name suggests, this movie was released in 2019 with the stellar cast of Nicole Kidman, Charlize Theron and Margot Robbie. Bombshell is a movie based on the accounts of 3 of the many women working at Fox News who set out on a journey to expose the then CEO, Mr. Roger Alies of sexual harassment. This movie received various nominations for best actress, best-supporting actress, make-up and hairstyle. 

The movie describes how Nicole Kidman was taken off as a co-anchor of a popular show and was moved to a less popular one. There she faced several sexist comments on and off the air including comments by the CEO Roger Alies thereby violating her rights. After being a target of such atrocities, she decides to meet her lawyers who in turn tell her that she is precluded from suing the network as per her employment contract with Fox News but she however has the right to sue the CEO personally. Similarly, the character played by Margot Robbie is sexually harassed by the CEO. After the character played by Nicole Kidman is fired, she sues the CEO for sexual harassment which is denied by him. During this course, Charlize Theron comes in support when she states that she too was harassed during her initial days at Fox News. 

The movie comes to an end after more and more evidence is found against the misdemeanours of the CEO in the course of his legal turmoil. The grave allegations with no defence led to Fox News settling the lawsuit for a whopping amount of $20million to the character played by Nicole Kidman along with an apology for the hostile work environment created by the CEO. Fox News further paid other victims a total sum of $50 Million to settle the pending lawsuits. Mr. Rober Alies, played by John Lithgow (winner of two Golden Globes) is then fired by the co-creator of Fox News. In real life, Roger Alies died in May 2017 due to a medical condition. Fox News further paid a $1 million fine for repeated violations of the New York City Human Rights Law after a three-year investigation into sexual harassment and other misdemeanours that took place.3 This was a major blowout to organisations that then started training their employees and making them aware of their rights at the workplace. 

This movie can also be related to the recent controversial #metoomovement led by various actresses who were sexually harassed. Bombshell is a sure-shot treat to watch for every viewer looking out for a bundle of powerful performances by leading ladies of Hollywood who show us how powerful the legal system is and how it can affect one’s life.  

Runaway Jury (2003)

It should suffice that this is a must-watch movie when it has been directed by Gary Fleder. Runaway Jury has an ensemble cast including John Cusack in the lead role. This movie is based on a novel of the same name written by John Grisham.

Runaway Jury is a legal thriller when one of the jury consultants uses illegal means, manipulation to select a jury who will be leaning in favour of the defense. The movie starts with a shooting scene at a brokerage firm where one Jacob Wood dies. Two years later, his wife hires an attorney to fight a case on the ground that the death of her husband was due to the company’s gross negligence. It is a once-in-a-lifetime movie where the jury consultants take the way of background check of every juror to be decided through the mode of electronic surveillance which is not legal in whatsoever manner.

Refraining from revealing the plot of this entire movie to not spoil the experience and putting it in as little words as possible, this movie is a masterpiece of a very high stakes game of cats and mice and one can only determine who really wins until the movie ends. The law is bent and manipulated time and again and the characters resort to illegal means like bribery in order to get a favourable outcome of the case. The cross-examinations in this movie are one of the most intensive ones, which display the true characteristics of each role played. 

This movie is nothing less than a treat to viewers with patience and an aura for intelligent method acting and brilliant direction. 

Conclusion

As we enlisted some of the best legal movies one must watch, this list cannot be said to be exhaustive due to the peculiar cinematic choices of every individual. Some tend to like movies with great stories, while some like great acting, some watch it for their favourite star and some watch it because of word of mouth marketing. 

One thing which is sure of the movies mentioned above is that one would surely recommend it to like-minded people. These movies have beautifully interwoven the art of direction, acting, story-telling. The viewers should be ready for suspense, anticipation and anxiety whilst watching these masterpieces.

Last but not the least, all these movies have depicted the legal profession and the relevant law at play in an easy to understand manner. These movies are perfect to watch as a mid-week burner and need less time commitment than web series that need to be binge-watched.

References 


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