A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this legal thriller includes a lot of dialogue about legal and moral matters, which means it's not really for kids (and it probably won't interest most of them anyway). It begins with a brutal murder (the bloody-faced body is visible repeatedly); a character shoots himself (it's off-screen, but his bloody head and crumpled body are visible); and another is tackled by police (he struggles before being pressed to the floor). The film opens with very close, very dark shots of their a couple having sex; their affair inspires violent jealousy. Characters drink at parties and swear (language includes several uses of "f--k" and many other curses).
What's the story?
Offered a fancy job with a glossy L.A. firm, superstar deputy district attorney Willy (Ryan Gosling) has one teeny case to finish first – a case that will teach him the usual lessons about justice, power, and arrogant villainy. Willy's nemesis is Ted (Anthony Hopkins), who shoots his lovely younger wife, Jennifer (Embeth Davidtz), angry that she's been sleeping with a detective, Rob (Billy Burke). The fact that the adulterous couple don't tell each other their real names leads to increasing trouble for Rob -- and for Willy, who's charged with putting Ted in prison. Willy and Ted face off for the first time during a hearing at which Ted announces that he'll defend himself. It's easy to see that he knows exactly what he's doing, but because Willy is distracted, he doesn't take the case as "seriously" as he should. Willy's boss, Joe (David Strathairn), suggests that the young lawyer's impressive 97% conviction rate has something to do with how good he is at this particular job (putting criminals away, rather than getting them off), but Willy believes he deserves to move up. To this end, he falls for Nikki (Rosamund Pike), the woman who will be his boss at the swanky firm; she promises him a "trial by fire" in his first case and invites him into her bed to boot. She's pretty and well-appointed, but Willy soon finds himself more drawn to her father -- a wise, moral-minded judge (Bob Gunton) -- than he is to her. But not to worry. Willy's proper focus is the same as the film's: his relationship with Ted. They trade courtroom dramatics, then find themselves competing in more profound realms involving morality, life, and death.
Is it any good?
Gregory Hoblit's movie is beautifully composed -- scene for scene, it offers great-looking shadows, camera angles, and deep focus shots. But it moves slowly and utterly predictably, a sad state for a thriller. The liveliest surprises come from an observer of the central action, Rob's partner Detective Flores (Cliff Curtis). Though he only appears in a few scenes, Flores is consistently funny, clever, and convincing. And that makes him more than welcome.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how the movie depicts its wealthy villain. Does it rely on Anthony Hopkins' performances in other movies to flesh out his character? How does actors' previous work influence how audiences react to them? Families can also discuss the appeal of legal/courtroom thrillers. How realistically do they represent the U.S. justice system? Why do so many of them have tidy endings? Is that true of real life courtroom cases?
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