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A legal drama, or a courtroom drama, is a genre of film and television that generally focuses on narratives regarding legal practice and the justice system. The American Film Institute (AFI) defines "courtroom drama" as a genre of film in which a system of justice plays a critical role in the film's narrative.Legal dramas have also followed the lives of the fictional attorneys, defendants, plaintiffs, or other persons related to the practice of law present in television show or film. Legal drama is distinct from police crime drama or detective fiction, which typically focus on police officers or detectives investigating and solving crimes. The focal point of legal dramas, more often, are events occurring within a courtroom, but may include any phases of legal procedure, such as jury deliberations or work done at law firms. Some legal dramas fictionalize real cases that have been litigated, such as the play-turned-movie, Inherit the Wind, which fictionalized the Scopes Monkey Trial. As a genre, the term "legal drama" is typically applied to television shows and films, whereas legal thrillers typically refer to novels and plays.
Legal dramas typical portray moral dilemmas that occur with the practice of the law or participating in the justice system, many of which mirrors dilemmas in real life. The American Bar Association Journal has interpreted the public's enjoyment of legal dramas occur because "stories about the legal system are laced with human vulnerability."Indeed, even though "there are no car chases [and]... [g]uns are never drawn", legal dramas retain strong followings because of their presentation of moral intrigue in a setting that actually reflects what occurs in the world.
Legal dramas may present stories of the miscarriages of justice, such as persons wrongly convicted of a crime they did not commit. At times, stories may involve the moral implications of police misconduct, such as placing or tampering with evidence, such as in the 1993 film In the Name of the Father . More often, legal dramas focus on the attorneys' point of view when faced with these difficulties. For instance, in The Practice , a television legal drama series revolving around a firm of criminal defense attorneys, a common theme presented is the difficulty of defending clients known or believed to be guilty.
Finally, many legal dramas present themes that reflect politicized issues. In the 1960 film, Inherit the Wind , the politicized issue portrayed was the legality of a Tennessee statute that made it unlawful to teach the theory of evolution in a public school. As laws and public policy opinions change, so do the themes presented in legal dramas. The 1992 film A Few Good Men explored the psychology of superior orders, e.g. excusing criminal actions because they were only committed from 'following orders'. The film Philadelphia (1993) addressed homophobia, and the discrimination and public fear of HIV/AIDs carriers. In 1996, The People vs. Larry Flynt portrays the early years of Hustler Magazine and issues of obscenity and freedom of speech. You Don't Know Jack (2010) is a fictional biographic film about Dr. Jack Kevorkian and the legal actions he faced as a result of providing euthanasia services to terminal patients. Racial injustice remains a common theme from as far back as To Kill a Mockingbird in 1962 to the 2017 film Marshall .
Legal drama in American film has an extensive history stemming from as early as the 1908 film, Falsely Accused!The 1950s and 1960s presented a number of legal drama films including, 12 Angry Men (1957), Witness for the Prosecution (1957), I Want to Live! (1958), Anatomy of a Murder (1959), The Young Philadelphians (1959), Compulsion (1959), Inherit the Wind (1960), Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), and To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). Arguably, 12 Angry Men and To Kill a Mockingbird stand as the cornerstones of early legal dramas, garnering extensive acclaim, recognition, and awards. Despite underwhelming box office performance, 12 Angry Men was nominated in three different categories at the 30th Academy Awards and appears on half of the AFI 100 Years... series lists of films, which celebrate the greatest films in American cinema. Likewise, To Kill a Mockingbird received even more acclaim, garnering three academy awards out of eight total nominations at the 35th Academy Awards, appears on seven of the AFI's ten lists celebrating the greatest films, including ranking as the best courtroom drama, and selected for preservation United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". Other countries also premiered legal dramas or courtrooms dramas in the early 1900s, such as the French silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928).
Other legal drama films have not focused on even the practice of law, such as Paper Chase, a film presenting the difficulty and anxiety of entering law school.
Legal thrillers include: Legal thriller films provide introspection into the life of a lawyer and legal professionals. Within films, the central character is often engaged in professional work and experiences an obstacle that they have to overcome such as a client's case.The character confronts problems with their personal life and work, as it is under threat by the complex case, creating a series of action and courtroom battles.
The problems that characters faced are evident within reviews of films such as The Judge (2014), where family dynamics are strained after a lawyer returns home for his mother's funeral.Reviews from the New York Times comment on the film's transformation into a crime story, characteristic of the legal thriller. The film itself unfolds the legal thriller's ideal courtroom drama style and the film is taken place in what is deemed as a "nostalgia-tinged town". Further films such as the The Lincoln Lawyer have also met similar reviews from Roger Ebert, commenting on the love of three elements in the film: courtroom scene, old cars and tangled criminals. The film, Dark Waters raises an ethical dilemma of lawyers often choosing sides within films, as the defence lawyer has to switch sides to defend a poisoned community. He risks his own future, community and life through dealing with the case, characteristic of the legal thriller.
By combining the elements of film and law together, the relationship becomes central to the audience. It is through film techniques, images, symbols and social functions that legal thriller films can make an impact on the audience.The film, Mangrove shows the inequalities and injustices prevalent through Britain's Caribbean history. Steven McQueen was the first black director of an Academy winning best picture with 12 Years a Slave . The five-part anthology, featuring Mangrove as the first visualises courtroom drama and heroism, characterising the legal thriller genre. Steve McQueen made his film resemble a landmark of the civil rights trial against black activists. The film uses the characteristics of the legal thriller genre through a powerhouse courtroom drama and focusing on racial justice. The power divide between two opposing sides is intended to shape transformative victory, as audiences can learn about diversity.
A Fall from Grace also features the challenge often taken by lawyers in legal thriller films.For example, a young public defender has to handle the challenging case of a woman charged with murdering her husband. The film features elements of a conventional courtroom drama such as the heroic lawyer, shady characters and a law firm setting. Within the film, there are plot twists, characteristic of the legal thriller genre. Furthermore, the film Law has ample court scenes and features a character taking on the fight for justice. The film defies the stereotypical expectations of women through featuring the main character as a woman who wants to speak openly about gang rape victimisation.
The recognition of injustice is another emerging aspect of legal thriller films.Marshall is another example of a legal thriller film, where the lawyer is feature as the main character, travelling the country on behalf of the NAACP to defend black men who are accused of crimes. The film features a courtroom scene where violence occurs in retrieving the confession of a client and the difficulty to obtain the truth. Flashbacks are used as a key film technique to craft outrage as revealed by a film review. The courtroom scenes are considered suspenseful and the setting of the 1940s shows a stage where people threw a facade with fake costumes and bright lights. Racism is exposed as a key social justice issue explored where the truth demands a voice.
The following table summarises films that are categorised in the legal thriller genre:
|1959||Anatomy of a Murder||English|
|1993||The Pelican Brief||English|
|1993||Guilty as Sin||English|
|1997||The Devil's Advocate||English|
|2011||The Lincoln Lawyer||English|
|2017||The Third Murder||Japanese|
|2019||Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile||English|
|2020||A Fall from Grace||English|
|2020||The Trial of the Chicago 7||English|
Early American television programs considered legal dramas include Perry Mason, The Defenders, JUDD for the Defense, Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law , Petrocelli , and Matlock . More recent examples of serious legal dramas are Murder One , The Practice , Law & Order , L.A. Law and Pearson.
The examples of legal comedy-dramas are Ally McBeal and Boston Legal , both of which David E. Kelley created and produced, with Suits as the most popular legal drama currently.[ citation needed ]
Legal dramas are becoming more in demand from the public, more popular for many people to watch, and beginning to feature stronger female leads.
It is widely believed by most practicing lawyers that legal dramas result in the general public having misconceptions about the legal process. Many of these misconceptions result from the desire to create an interesting story. For example, because conflict between parties make for an interesting story, legal dramas emphasize the trial and ignore the fact that the vast majority of civil and criminal cases in the United States are settled out of court.Trials in legal dramas are often shown to be more emphatic by disregarding actual rules in trials that prevent prejudicing defendants from juries.
Besides the actual practice of law, legal dramas may also misrepresent the character of lawyers in general. Some fictional lawyers may be portrayed as ambulance chasers, breaching rules of professional conduct by seeking out potential personal injury plaintiffs. Lawyers may also be portrayed as amoral, seeking only to win or financial gain, rather than do what is "morally" right. These negative portrayals reflect a long-standing cultural perception of lawyers since time immemorial. Another misrepresented character trait of attorneys portrayed by legal dramas is their sexual appetite. Characters such as Bobby Donnell and Ally McBeal portray lawyers who seemingly cannot keep from having sex with clients, colleagues, opposing counsel, or judges. Although attorneys appear a top preferred occupation for potential dating partners according to Bumbleand Tinder, the Model Rules of Professional Conduct preclude lawyers from many of the relations portrayed in television.
Speaking at a screening of 12 Angry Men during the 2010 Fordham University Law School Film festival, US Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor stated that seeing 12 Angry Men while she was in college influenced her decision to pursue a career in law. She was particularly inspired by immigrant Juror 11's monologue on his reverence for the American justice system. She also told the audience of law students that, as a lower-court judge, she would sometimes instruct juries to not follow the film's example, because most of the jurors' conclusions are based on speculation, not fact.Sotomayor noted that events from the film such as entering a similar knife into the proceeding; performing outside research into the case matter in the first place; and ultimately the jury as a whole making broad, wide-ranging assumptions far beyond the scope of reasonable doubt would not be allowed in a real-life jury situation, and would in fact have yielded a mistrial (assuming, of course, that applicable law permitted the content of jury deliberations to be revealed).
12 Angry Men is a 1957 American courtroom drama film directed by Sidney Lumet, adapted from a 1954 teleplay of the same name by Reginald Rose. The film tells the story of a jury of 12 men as they deliberate the conviction or acquittal of an 18-year old defendant on the basis of reasonable doubt, forcing the jurors to question their morals and values.
Anatomy of a Murder is a 1959 American courtroom drama crime film produced and directed by Otto Preminger. The screenplay by Wendell Mayes was based on the 1958 novel of the same name written by Michigan Supreme Court Justice John D. Voelker under the pen name Robert Traver. Voelker based the novel on a 1952 murder case in which he was the defense attorney.
The Verdict is a 1982 American legal drama film directed by Sidney Lumet and written by David Mamet from Barry Reed's 1980 novel of the same name. It stars Paul Newman, Charlotte Rampling, Jack Warden, James Mason, Milo O'Shea, and Lindsay Crouse. In the story, a down-on-his-luck alcoholic lawyer accepts a medical malpractice case to improve his own situation, but discovers along the way that he is doing the right thing.
The Rainmaker is a 1997 American legal drama film written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola based on John Grisham's 1995 novel of the same name. It stars Matt Damon, Danny DeVito, Danny Glover, Claire Danes, Jon Voight, Roy Scheider, Mickey Rourke, Virginia Madsen, Mary Kay Place and Teresa Wright in her final film role.
My Cousin Vinny is a 1992 American comedy film directed by Jonathan Lynn, from a screenplay by Dale Launer. The film stars Joe Pesci, Ralph Macchio, Marisa Tomei, Mitchell Whitfield, Lane Smith, Bruce McGill, and Fred Gwynne in his final film appearance. It was distributed by 20th Century Fox and released on March 13, 1992.
Crime films, in the broadest sense, is a film genre inspired by and analogous to the crime fiction literary genre. Films of this genre generally involve various aspects of crime and its detection. Stylistically, the genre may overlap and combine with many other genres, such as drama or gangster film, but also include comedy, and, in turn, is divided into many sub-genres, such as mystery, suspense or noir.
Evil Angels is a 1988 Australian drama film directed by Fred Schepisi. The screenplay by Schepisi and Robert Caswell is based on John Bryson's 1985 book of the same name. It chronicles the case of Azaria Chamberlain, a nine-week-old baby girl who disappeared from a campground near Uluru in August 1980 and the struggle of her parents, Michael Chamberlain and Lindy Chamberlain, to prove their innocence to a public convinced that they were complicit in her death. Meryl Streep and Sam Neill star as the Chamberlains.
The legal thriller genre is a type of crime fiction genre that focuses on the preceding of the investigation, with particular reference to the impacts on courtroom proceedings and the lives of characters.
Primal Fear is a 1996 American legal thriller film directed by Gregory Hoblit, based on William Diehl's 1993 novel of the same name. It stars Richard Gere as a Chicago defense attorney who believes that his altar boy client is not guilty of murdering an influential Catholic archbishop.
Law & Order is a media franchise composed of a number of related American television series created by Dick Wolf. They were originally broadcast on NBC, and all of them deal with some aspect of the criminal justice system. Together, the original series, its various spin-offs, the TV film, and crossover episodes from other shows constitute over 1,000 hours of programming.
To Kill a Mockingbird is a 1962 American drama film directed by Robert Mulligan. The screenplay by Horton Foote is based on Harper Lee's 1960 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name. It stars Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch and Mary Badham as Scout. To Kill a Mockingbird marked the film debuts of Robert Duvall, William Windom, and Alice Ghostley.
Law firms are a common element of fictional depictions of legal practice. In legal drama, generally, they create opportunities to depict lawyers engaged in dramatic interactions that are reflective of the real-world drama of the profession. The portrayal of law firms varies by the media in which they are presented, with law firms in novels and in films being presented in a negative light, while law firms in television series tending to be presented more positively.
Atticus Finch is a fictional character in Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird. A preliminary version of the character also appears in the novel Go Set a Watchman, written in the mid-1950s but not published until 2015. Atticus is a lawyer and resident of the fictional Maycomb County, Alabama, and the father of Jeremy "Jem" Finch and Jean Louise "Scout" Finch. He represents the African-American man Tom Robinson in his trial where he is charged with rape of Mayella Ewell. Lee based the character on her own father, Amasa Coleman Lee, an Alabama lawyer, who, like Atticus, represented black defendants in a highly publicized criminal trial. Book magazine's list of The 100 Best Characters in Fiction Since 1900 names Finch as the seventh best fictional character of 20th-century literature. In 2003, the American Film Institute voted Atticus Finch, as portrayed in an Academy Award-winning performance by Gregory Peck in the 1962 film adaptation, as the greatest hero of all American cinema. In the 2018 Broadway stage play adapted by Aaron Sorkin, Finch is portrayed by various actors including Jeff Daniels, Ed Harris, Greg Kinnear, Rhys Ifans, and Richard Thomas.
Phoenix "Nick" Wright, known as Ryūichi Naruhodō in the original Japanese language versions, is a fictional defense attorney in Capcom's Ace Attorney video game series. Phoenix is featured as the protagonist in the first three games of the series, appears as a supporting character in the fourth and returns as one of the protagonists for the fifth and sixth games. The character has also appeared in film, anime and manga adaptations of the series, a Japanese series of musicals and stage plays, and crossover video games such as Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, Project X Zone 2, Puzzle Fighter, and Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3.
Trial films is a subgenre of the legal/courtroom drama that encompasses films that are centered on a civil or criminal trial, typically a trial by jury.
A Few Good Men is a 1992 American legal drama film based on Aaron Sorkin's 1989 play of the same name. Directed by Rob Reiner, who produced the film with David Brown and Andrew Scheinman, was written from a screenplay by Sorkin himself and stars an ensemble cast, including Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, Demi Moore, Kevin Bacon, Kevin Pollak, J. T. Walsh, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Kiefer Sutherland.
A court show is a television programming subgenre of either legal dramas or reality legal programming. Court shows present content mainly in the form of legal hearings between plaintiffs and defendants presided over by a judge. At present, these shows typically portray small claims court cases, produced in a simulation of a small claims courtroom inside of a television studio. The genre began in radio broadcasting in the 1930s and moved to television in the late 1940s, beginning with such TV shows as Court of Current Issues, Your Witness, Famous Jury Trials, etc.
Thriller film, also known as suspense film or suspense thriller, is a broad film genre that evokes excitement and suspense in the audience. The suspense element found in most films' plots is particularly exploited by the filmmaker in this genre. Tension is created by delaying what the audience sees as inevitable, and is built through situations that are menacing or where escape seems impossible.
Muhammad Ali's Greatest Fight is a 2013 American television drama film about boxer Muhammad Ali's refusal to report for induction into the United States military during the Vietnam War, focusing on how the United States Supreme Court decided to rule in Ali's favor in the 1971 case of Clay v. United States. The film was directed by Stephen Frears, from a screenplay written by Shawn Slovo based on the 2000 book Muhammad Ali's Greatest Fight: Cassius Clay vs. the United States of America by Howard Bingham and Max Wallace. It premiered on HBO on October 5, 2013.
Marshall is a 2017 American biographical legal drama film directed by Reginald Hudlin and written by Michael and Jacob Koskoff. It stars Chadwick Boseman as Thurgood Marshall, the first African American Supreme Court Justice, and focuses on one of the first cases of his career, the State of Connecticut v. Joseph Spell. It also stars Josh Gad, Kate Hudson, Dan Stevens, Sterling K. Brown, and James Cromwell.