23 November 2010 | gradyharp
A Very Fine Courtroom Drama
THE TRIAL, adapted from Robert Whitlow's novel of the same name by director Gary Wheeler and Mark Freiburger, is in many ways a reminder of what movies used to be - movies that centered on trials of innocent victims or trials that, like TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, surfaced other issues to ponder. This film is a quiet little intimate tale about the justice system in all its elegance and flaws, but it is more: there are human stories that interweave giving the film an aura of caring that is so rare in today's CGI-oriented Hollywood.
The film is set in the beauty of Georgia countryside, complete with mists and fields and rivers where we first see attorney Mac MacClain (Matthew Modine), pensive after the accidental death of his wife and two children nine years ago. His practice has fallen, his mental sate has fallen below the flatline state, and he is contemplating suicide when a telephone call from the wise old town judge (Rance Howard) summons him to take on a case of the murder of one Angela Hightower, the young and beautiful daughter of the wealthiest man in the little town, the corrupt Hightower family being part of Mac's sad past encounters. The accused is Angela's boyfriend Pete Thomason (an impressive Randy Wayne) who is now in jail claiming he had total amnesia for the event. Mac feels a sense of responsibility to the boy and agrees to take on the case, hiring back his assistant Mindy (Nikki Deloach) and his investigator Ray (Robert Forster). As they uncover facts Mac seeks advice from psychologist Dr. Anna Wilkes (Clare Carey) who in addition to testing Pete finds time to share her Grieving Group Sessions with Mac.
The evidence is gathered and the trial begins after a plea bargain is denied by Pete. The Hightower lawyer is the brilliant, eloquent but ruthless Joe Whetstone (a fine performance by Bob Gunton) and the battle of wits and rights is on. The courtroom drama is well written and the turn of events from the trial to the followup findings and second trial are well molded. If the film ends in a too saccharine mode, the quality of acting in the film before that should make the audience tolerate the preachiness. There are some fine cameos -Larry Bagby, Burgess Jenkins, Brett Rice among them - and there is much to learn about contemporary youth habits and small town tenor. This is not a great film, but it is a refreshing memory of the small and intimate films of yesteryear.