17 October 2002 | lunarbeauty
Well worth a look
Wow, a Spacey film with no reviews. I picked this one up from a pirate seller here in Shanghai. It's pretty good. It's got that made-for-TV feel, which is a bit distracting, but with its obviously modest budget it turns in a decent performance -- though the voice-over by the protagonist's son is largely superfluous.
Spacey plays (the historical) Clarence Darrow, who turns from a meek early 20thC corporate lawyer into a champion of justice for the poor and downtrodden. Spacey nicely captures Darrow's growing surety and nuanced reaction to his growing fame. The resulting break-up of Darrow's marriage, however, is dealt with somewhat incoherently, though the aftermath of the break-up is tackled with more gusto.
The surrounding cast turn in a workmanlike performance, though there's a hint of evil-baron-twirling-moustache to some of the villains, and too much `ard -working `onesty to the poor folk (sort of Goody Blake and Harry Gill)
Darrow's rise was followed by a sharp fall; this too is covered pretty well. But his most famous case, The Scopes Trial, which was the one I most wanted to see (Spacey getting his teeth into the absurd christians) is not covered, merely voiced by his son. I'm not sure if that's a cop-out or quite admirable (cf. the son's voice-over ``The Scopes Trial, the one which everyone remembers him for..'').
Thus the film closes with Darrow's return to notoriety, trying to save a pair of murders the death sentence. This calls for the lawyer-film favorite, the barnstormer speech. It's a trope ripe for melodrama, but Spacey sees the trap and sidesteps it. The make-up (Darrow's now elderly) is a bit ropey, it's true -- but that's no impediment to the actor. None of your cocksure lawyer here; he's half-broken, half-unsure, passionate but querulous. Nor is the speech wrapped up in a couple of paragraphs; it's a lengthy, judicious affair, Spacey dominating the scene entirely.
In all, well worth a punt.