Great silver screen lawyers and solicitors

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Ten of the best performances from on-screen legal professionals!
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Film - Ghosts of Mississippi (1996)
Character - Bobby DeLaughter
Actor - Alec Baldwin
Trailer – Watch here

Based on the true story of Byron De La Beckwith, a white supremacist accused of killing civil rights activist Medgar Evers in 1964. The film received mixed reviews upon its release, and was a flop at the box office, but has since become something of a cult classic. The topic, the plot and, particularly, the brilliant script, ensure that this is not a film high on fun, but if you want to watch a courtroom drama packed full of important messages and great performances, look no further. There are obvious similarities with To Kill a Mockingbird, but that in no way diminishes the significance of the trial at the centre of Ghosts of Mississippi.

Film – A Few Good Men (1992)
Character - Lt. Daniel Kaffee
Actor – Tom Cruise
Trailer – Watch here

A lazy and relatively green military lawyer defends a pair of stubborn Marines who have been accused of murdering a colleague, yet insist they were only acting under orders. This early ‘90s courtroom classic stars a baby-faced Tom Cruise, who steals the show as inexperienced lawyer Daniel Kaffee. Cruise impresses more and more as the film continues, putting in a performance that showed the world he was far more than a cliché-loving fighter pilot or a love-sick bartender.

Film – Law Abiding Citizen (2009)
Character – Nick Rice
Actor – Jamie Foxx
Trailer - Watch here

This gory and explosive thriller is much more focused on action than it is on legal drama, but it is nonetheless a well-loved piece of modern cinema, and Jamie Foxx plays the role of prosecutor Nick Rice flawlessly. Rice, who appears more concerned about his conviction rate than risking his reputation to achieve justice, incurs the wrath of distraught Clyde Shelton (played by Gerard Butler), whose wife and child were killed by a man who eventually pleads guilty to a lesser charge and avoids being sent down for murder. Shelton then sets out on a violent rampage, and ends up in prison. Arguably there is no good guy in this film; both are bad in their own way, and both act in ways that would be frowned upon by most, which only helps make the movie more compelling.

Film – Miracle on 34th Street (1994)
Character - Bryan Bedford
Actor - Dylan McDermott
Trailer – Watch here

A lawyer and a six-year-old girl (who had previously expressed doubts about whether Santa Claus is real), must prove to the world that a man claiming to be the mythical Father Christmas is not a fraud. Richard Attenborough, fresh from his ill-fated attempt to open a dinosaur theme park, plays Kris Kringle, a man hired by a major New York retailer to act as an in-house Santa Claus. However, after being set up by a jealous Santa rival, Kringle ends up in court, where he admits that he genuinely believes himself to be to the Father Christmas. Dylan McDermott plays a kind, gentle and loved-up lawyer determined to see Kringle freed, and embarks upon a campaign to get New York’s residents to believe in Santa again. The film is sweet, fun and altogether festive, and worth a watch if only to see a lawyer, generally portrayed in cinema as an individual keen to rely upon facts and authenticity, putting his reputation on the line to support a man claiming to be Santa Claus.
Film – Liar Liar (1997)
Character - Fletcher Reede
Actor – Jim Carrey
Trailer – Watch here

Anyone who claims not to like this film is, quite frankly, a liar. Cinema in the mid-90s was dominated by Carrey at the height of his powers; between 1994 and 1998 he starred in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask, Dumb & Dumber, Batman Forever, Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, Liar Liar and The Truman Show, which is a pretty stellar list. Liar Liar, in which he plays Fletcher Reede, a lawyer compelled to tell the truth for 24 hours as a result of his son’s birthday wish, is Carrey at his eccentric and engaging best. Though now almost two decades old, the film’s comedy is as fresh as it was upon its release.

Film – Legally Blonde (2001)
Character - Elle Woods
Actor - Reese Witherspoon
Trailer – Watch here

As rom-com coming of age films go, this one sits pretty at the top of many people’s list. Ultra-brainy fashion graduate Elle Woods, played by Witherspoon, makes the decision to head to Harvard to win back her ex-boyfriend, but soon discovers that not only does she have an aptitude for law, she is the only person with the relevant knowledge to save a defendant being framed for murder. Though Legally Blonde is perhaps not a movie for the law purist, it is a film that does a very good job of highlighting the point that you should never judge a book by its cover.

Film – Conviction (2010)
Character - Betty Anne Waters
Actor - Hilary Swank
Trailer – Watch here

Based on a true story, this film follows a woman’s heroic 18-year fight to achieve justice for her brother. Hilary Swank’s portrayal of Betty Anne Waters, who put herself through college and law school in a bid to free her brother from prison, is fabulous, and adds further allure to an already incredible story.

Film – Collateral (2004)
Character - Jada Pinkett Smith
Actor – Annie
Trailer – Watch here

Though Jada Pinkett Smith is really a secondary character in this visually stunning, and criminally underrated, Michael Mann thriller, the entire film builds towards her encounter with slick hitman Vincent, played brilliantly by Tom Cruise. Set against the backdrop of night-time Los Angeles, and accompanied by one of modern cinema’s most imposing soundtracks, this is a film that deserves far more acclaim than it received upon its release. And, while Pinkett Smith’s time on screen is relatively short, she shines during each scene.

Film – The Devil’s Advocate (1997)
Character - Kevin Lomax
Actor – Keanu Reeves
Trailer - Watch here

Gifted lawyer Kevin Lomax (Reeves) has never lost a case, and has made a name for himself by defending people that, though obviously guilty, walk free because of Lomax’s legal nous. He is then offered the opportunity to work for a high-end law firm in New York, and from there his life takes a dark twist. Al Pacino stars as John Milton, Lomax’s boss and, as it turns out, the devil incarnate. While Reeves can hardly be considered one of the acting world’s elite, he plays the part of ambitious lawyer seduced, and subsequently beaten, by power, absolutely perfectly.

Film – To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
Character – Atticus Finch
Actor – Gregory Peck
Trailer – Watch here

Was there really any doubting that Atticus Finch would top this list? Gregory Peck’s timeless portrayal of a lawyer who steps up to defend Tom Robinson, a black man accused of rape and assault, continues to top best performance lists more than 50 years after its initial release. In 2003, Finch was named the greatest hero in the history of cinema by the American Film Institute, condemning whip-wielding Indiana Jones to second and martini-swilling super sleuth James Bond to third. Finch, who values justice and equality above all else, takes on the case despite knowing he cannot win, and fights for a cause that, in 1930s America, was liable to cause outrage amongst his peers. If you have not seen the film, then watch it. If you have not read the Harper Lee classic of the same name, then read it. You will not be disappointed.

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