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...And Justice for All (1979)


Sorry to break it to you, but the line ‘The whole system’s out of order!’ does not appear in …And Justice for All., Norman Jewison’s send-up of the American legal system and one of the films with the most complicated punctuation ever to be released

The actual line that Al Pacino bellows out in the film’s final scene, in case you’re wondering, is this: ‘You’re out of order! You’re out of order! The whole trial is out of order! They’re out of order!’ Nah, doesn’t quite roll off the tongue the same way, does it?

Justice is a darkly comic tale about the law. How dark? One judge (Jack Warden) is openly suicidal, eating his lunch on a ledge atop the courthouse every day. When another (John Forsythe) is arrested for raping a young girl, he enlists his nemesis, lawyer Arthur Kirkland (Pacino) to defend him. Blackmail is involved. Meanwhile, Kirkland’s other clients are all sent to jail, though they’re innocent. The judge, who’s guilty, is virtually certain to go free. That’s justice, huh?

Pacino is at his screamy ’70s best here, wailing like a banshee through scene after scene about the obvious injustices being perpetrated around him, injustice which no one else seems to care one whit about. Even his friends (including a pre-bald Jeffrey Tambor) seem to get off on the way the system can be manipulated.

Justice, however, is really an actor’s platform and barely works on its legal basis. There’s really nothing at all behind the rape case that could make us care much about it, and Kirkland’s pet project, involving a defendant (a large black man) who appears in court invariably wearing a blond wig, is equally tepid on its merits. In an era that brought us high-power legal thrillers like The Verdict, it’s hard to give Justice as pass for ignoring the most important part of its story.

But chest-thumping is worth something, and for its social value and Pacino’s raging performance, Justice has an important place in American cinema. No, years after watching it you’ll have no idea what the central trial was all about… but you’ll certainly remember that, whatever it was, it was out of order!

The new DVD includes a commentary track, a ‘testimony’ from Jewison, an interview with co-writer Barry Levinson, and deleted scenes.