What with the sense of showmanship, the innate conflict, and the eventual clear distinction between who is right and who is wrong, it’s no wonder that stories from the courtroom have made for some of the best films in cinematic history.
To celebrate the release of Denial on Digital & DVD, we’ve cross-examined over a century of films, and present Exhibit A: our favourite legal dramas.
12 Angry Men
Whereas most legal dramas dwell on the trials and tribulations of lawyers and their clients, 12 Angry Men focuses exclusively on the jury as they deliberate, clash and struggle to reach a decision. An intense character driven drama, almost every exhilarating minute of the film takes place in a single room, as a lone juryman (Henry Fonda) endeavours to convince those around him of a young boy’s innocence.
When a stuttering altar boy (played by Edward Norton in his film debut), the victim of years of abuse, is accused on the brutal murder of an influential Catholic Archbishop, a hotshot lawyer (Richard Gere) takes the case pro bono. What follows is a courtroom roller-coaster ride, with a surprise twist ending that would no doubt leave even M. Night Shyamalan speechless.
Earning Tom Hanks’ his first Academy Award, Philadelphia is the emotional story of a lawyer unjustly dismissed from his job when his colleagues discover he has AIDS. Co-starring Denzel Washington and with an unforgettable soundtrack, including an award winning lead single from The Boss, it was one of the first mainstream Hollywood productions to put the HIV/AIDS crisis and homophobia in the spotlight.
Based on the true story of an untrained legal clerk turned activist, Erin Brockovich stars Julia Roberts as an unemployed single mother who helped win the largest settlement ever paid in a direct-action lawsuit. Roberts’ masterful performance earned her an Academy Award, BAFTA, Golden Globe and SAG Award.
Another legal drama based on real-life events, Freeheld is a moving story about love, loss and the struggle for LGBT equality. When a police detective (Julianne Moore) is diagnosed with a terminal illness, she takes to the courts to ensure her pension benefits are passed on to her domestic partner (Ellen Page) – the same privilege that would be passed on to a heterosexual spouse.
A Few Good Men
Catapulting legendary screenwriter Aaron Sorkin into the spotlight, this drama about a military lawyer determined to uncover a conspiracy wowed audiences with one of the most intense and iconic courtroom scenes of all time. Even if you haven’t seen the film, you’ve undoubtedly heard Jack Nicholson’s famous line: “You can’t handle the truth!”
The Social Network
Recounting the founding and subsequent legal woes of social media juggernaut Facebook, David Fincher’s The Social Network successfully toes the line between celebration and damning critique. Supported by a masterful script from Aaron Sorkin - his second dip into legal drama territory - and a stellar backing track from Nine Inch Nails, the narrative is inter-cut with the out-of-court testimonies of Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) and the Winklevoss Twins (Armie Hammer).
When a history professor (Rachel Weisz) denounces a fellow historian (Timothy Spall) as a holocaust denier, he sues her for libel, forcing her legal team to prove the holocaust occurred. A dramatization of real-life events, Denial is a gripping courtroom thriller that feels incredibly relevant in the era of misinformation and ‘fake news’.
DENIAL is available to buy on digital platforms July 12, and is on DVD and digital rental July 26.