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A Time to Kill

Movie review by
Lynnette Nicholas, Common Sense Media
A Time to Kill Movie Poster Image
Legal drama candidly tackles race relations in America.
  • R
  • 1996
  • 149 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Promotes the idea that people of different ethnicities can interact peacefully, even in the South. Some of the film’s characters show that practicing integrity and judging someone by their character, rather than skin color, can have a lasting effect on humanity. Highlights the notion that everyone deserves social justice, no matter their social class, history, or ethnic identity.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Jake, a white man who's supposed to be "one of the bad guys," helps a disenfranchised black man receive a fair trial in the South. Their relationship is aspirational and shows that human instinct, compassion, and empathy can overcome racial prejudice. Liberal lawyers and a former civil rights activist show that it's possible to defend someone fairly without letting racism block their judgment. A man whose leg has to get amputated as the result of a stray bullet forgives; a man who lost his home and almost lost his wife doesn't give up on what he believes to be right. Many characters within the film personify integrity, perseverance, and bravery in the face of challenging times.

Violence

The opening segment shows a rape scene from the eyes of the 10-year-old victim. Two men tie her up, one gets undressed, and they thrust on top of her. Fist fights and brawls. Scenes show a cross burning and someone torching a home. Gun violence, murders, bloodshed, and race-induced tension and violence.

Sex

Sexual innuendo.

Language

Language includes many uses of the "N" word and a few uses of "s--t," plus "damn," "crap," "ass," "piss," and "God" (as an exclamation).

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Many adults smoke and drink at bars. Two characters are alcoholics who drink throughout the film. Characters drink and drive.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that A Time to Kill is a drama set in Mississippi about a white lawyer (Matthew McConaughey) who defends a black man (Samuel L. Jackson) accused of killing the two white men who raped his 10-year-old daughter. The chain of events following the death of these men creates an atmosphere of tension within the small Southern town, and revenge is sought by the Ku Klux Klan. Expect to see racial violence (including a cross burning) and the use of guns/weapons; characters are killed, and the rape scene is very upsetting. Characters swear ("s--t" and more) and use racially charged slurs (the "N" word); they also drink and smoke. The movie is based on the popular novel by John Grisham and has themes of integrity and perseverance.

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What's the story?

A TIME TO KILL takes a candid look at America's judicial system while giving viewers a glimpse of the psychological and physical trauma and consequences that come along with racial injustice, systemic racism, and oppression. In a small Mississippi town, bold young lawyer Jake Brigance (Matthew McConaughey) and his assistant, Ellen Roark (Sandra Bullock), defend Carl Lee Hailey (Samuel L. Jackson), a poor black man accused of killing the two white men who raped his young daughter. This incites fury, and the Ku Klux Klan seeks revenge. The movie is based on the best-selling novel by John Grisham.

Is it any good?

This film candidly depicts the residual effect of racism on the next generation. Viewers get the opportunity to see things from a different perspective and consider what life is like for both a white man and a black man in the South. While A Time to Kill fairly portrays unjust crimes committed against Carl Lee and his family, the film also allows viewers to see the intense experiences of a white man and his legal team who choose to defend a black man in the South during a pivotal time in America's history. A Time To Kill doesn't shy away from revealing topics, attitudes, and the realities of many who lived in the South during this time period.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the subject matter of A Time to Kill. Has the social climate in America changed since this film came out in 1996? Has racial tension in America lessened or increased? Why do you say that?

  • Do you think that black men in America have the right to a fair trial? Why or why not?

  • Did you notice any stereotyping in this movie? What about in other movies that deal with race? What's the danger of stereotypes?

  • How do the characters and story show the value of perseverance and integrity? Why are those important character strengths?

  • Why do you think that Jake told the jury, in reference to 10-year-old Tonya, during his final closing statement to "imagine she is white"?

Movie details

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