Politics & Society

Five Film Faces of Justice

Jimi Izrael is the author of The Denzel Principle: Why Black Women Can't Find Good Black Men and a regular contributor to Tell Me More.

The Casey Anthony verdict caused a lot of Americans to ask whether the justice system needs a serious rewrite. And many of us think we know what justice is supposed to look like because we've seen the movie. The issue of crime and punishment frequently gets the Hollywood treatment, and here are just a few of the best silver screen stories of justice going right...and wrong.

12 Angry Men (1957) – In perhaps the Gold Standard of court room cinema, Henry Fonda is Juror #8 in a nameless crew of testosterone-driven malcontents. They wrestle with the evidence, their own demons, and each other as they decide the fate of an 18-year-old murder suspect.

Norma Rae – Not every movie about justice happens in a court room. Sally Field won an Oscar for her role as Norma Rae, a textile worker fighting to unionize her shop in the face of opposition in the community and pressure at home. Featuring one of the the most memorable scenes in any film about workers rights, "Norma Rae" allowed Field to soar in this fictionalized tale of activistCrystal Lee Sutton's rage against the machine.

A Time to Kill – When the system fails, some movie heroes take the law into their own hands. In this adaptation of a John Grisham novel, Samuel L. Jackson plays a vengeful father who kills the men who raped his daughter. Matthew McConaughey co-stars as the lawyer trying to save him from the electric chair

To Kill a Mockingbird — I obviously love Gregory Peck, right? But beyond Peck in his legendary role as Atticus Finch, viewers should appreciate the appeal of the ridiculously underrated Brock Peters as rape suspect Tom Robinson. This adaptation of Harper Lee's classic novel is a textbook study on class and race, and the death of innocence.

A Few Good Men – YOU can't handle the truth, but Tom Cruise can in his turn as military lawyer Daniel Kaffee who defends two Marines against murder charges. Adapted from the stage, this 1992 movie has a tiny part for future Oscar winner Cuba Gooding Junior, and a larger role for Demi Moore. But Jack Nicholson really earns his stripes as the patriotic and lethal Colonel Nathan Jessep, who tries to evade responsibility for ordering a beating that leaves one of his men dead.

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