Staff Picks – A Top Ten List of Movies Public Defenders Should Watch
This list was compiled by Heather H. Hall, Ernie Lewis and Amanda A. Thibeaux. Note that it is quite intentionally "a” Top Ten list, not “the” Top Ten list. Additions and edits welcome! Don't yell at us too much! Hahaha….
1. Legally Blonde—I know what you’re all thinking. This is the least realistic and most ridiculous lawyer movie, maybe ever. (And it is. She got a 179 on her LSATs? Not happening!). But, at the time it came out I was a young teen, and it inspired me to think that I could one day become a lawyer who wore awesome clothes, not lose my sass, AND do good things for my clients.
2. The Devil’s Advocate—Although the Devil’s Advocate doesn’t take the kindest view of criminal defense attorneys, it’s Pacino’s performance that puts this movie high on the list for me. And poor, soft hearted, Keanu Reeves. No one can handle Pacino as satan, especially you Keanu.
3. Cape Fear – While less a “lawyer movie,” and more a movie about “Robert DeNiro in really good shape with lots of tattoos doing scary things to his ex-lawyer,” if given the chance I would watch this movie on repeat all day every day. The way DeNiro, in a soft southern accent, refers to Nick Nolte as “Counselor” throughout the whole film still gives me nightmares. It also raises the moral/ethical question of how lawyers should behave when they believe a person is “truly evil.” Also, did I mention how scary DeNiro is? Put this in your Netflix queue, asap.
4. My Cousin Vinny – I have super fond memories of getting together as whole-office staff and watching this movie; we ordered pizzas and popped popcorn and everything. This is such a classic I imagine that many public defenders quote from it regularly, but try watching it with your public defender staff and see what happens… Worth a shot for an inexpensive, fun, staff-building exercise. So many good quotes in there. Though be forewarned, both Maisa Tomei and Joe Pesci have voices that are super tempting to imitate, but quickly turn super annoying when staff starts using them constantly.
5. Disturbing the Universe – This movie was recommended to me by public defender Andre Vitale (Rochester, NY), who listed William Kunstler as one of his lawyer-heroes. That man was everywhere! This is a great legal history of fights for the oppressed as well as a biopic of a passionate, talented, larger-than-life personality. I was a little ashamed that I had never heard of William Kunstler. This is a good movie to remind yourself that we are in good company as freedom fighters.
6. Brother’s Keeper – A little known but critically acclaimed documentary about what “the system” can do to people who walk at the edges of society’s trodden paths where poverty and oppression intersect. Taking place in rural America, it’s a justice story that may not be typical, but paints a compelling picture of the unchecked power of prosecutors and the need for public defender’s to channel their client’s voice. As I’ve become more familiar with Silicon Valley De-Bug and the AC Justice Project, I was reminded of the amazing community backing that organically arose for the accused. This probably isn’t on your radar but worth a view.
7. To Kill a Mockingbird – Atticus Finch. Does anymore need to be said?
8. And Justice for All. – “You’re out of order”, said the judge. “No, you’re out of order”, screamed our hero, played by Al Pacino. From the gentlemanly Atticus Finch, the throwback from the 50’s and 60’s in his seersucker suit, to the raging Arthur Kirkland, spitting, sitting in jail, and memorably saying, “don’t you care, don’t you even care?” Somewhere in between these two was the lawyer I wanted to be.
9. Rosewood – Do you know about the tragedy of Rosewood? Do you know Steve Hanlon’s role in seeking justice for its victims? Watch to learn about a fantastic piece of American history. While the event itself occurred nearly 100 years go, but the story of Rosewood’s racism is just as relevant today as it was then.
10. Just Mercy – OK, so this movie isn’t out yet, but it needs to be on the list. The book “Just Mercy” is Bryan Stevenson’s account of his own personal journey as a hyper-influential justice advocate, a compelling and compassionate retelling of some of his client’s stories, and his message for the masses in order to fix our broken system of justice. It promises to be a good one. I envy the actor that gets to play Bryan Stevenson and feel a part of all he has achieved.