A shy young man from Kentucky, Aaron Stampler (by Edward Norton) is the Archbishop’s attendant at Chicago Cathedral. One night, the Archbishop is involved in a disturbance at the Cathedral and he gets brutally murdered. Aaron is involved in this disturbance also and responding Police first spot him not far from the scene, terrified and covered in blood. Aaron flees from Police and due to the Archbishop’s notoriety his capture is broadcast live on television. Martin Vail (by Richard Gere) is a successful, ambitious and high-profile defence lawyer who watches as Aaron’s public capture unfolds live his TV screen. He instantly sees an opportunity to boost his own profile and further his career in Chicago, so he volunteers to defend the hapless but seemingly guilty Aaron who has been unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Assistant District Attorney Janet Venable (by Laura Linney) is assigned to prosecute the case and she has history with Vail. During his pre-trial consultations, Vail suspects that Aaron suffers from a mental disorder which is examined by psychologist Molly Arrington (by Frances McDormand), this threatens to complicate matters, as does the political storm building that involves corruption, sexual abuse, the Archbishop and one of the City’s most influential power brokers, Shaughnessy (by John Mahoney). Is this more than just an open-and-shut murder trial? Can Vail successfully defend Aaron in this high-stakes proceeding but keep the reputations of the other desperate players intact at the same time?
This is a good movie. It’s much more than just a courtroom drama. This is Edward Norton’s acting debut and he hit the benchmark so high that to me he is yet to achieve such magnificence again. His portrayal of the disturbed young country-boy Aaron is excellent, stunning and totally authentic. He is a joy to watch. Richard Gere fits the role of the exquisitely groomed, handsome, rich and flawed Martin Vale perfectly and the role is marvellous for him – there is actually a hint of social conscience here, which is refreshing to see. The movie has a fabulous and totally blind-side twist ending that makes the movie and its legacy even better for the viewer. As always, John Mahoney, Laura Linney and Frances McDormand are solid and excellent in their supporting character roles. It’s great.
Edward Norton was nominated for an Academy Award (Oscar) for Best Supporting Actor for this role and that is very well deserved. The drama is based on the novel by William Diehl.
Made in 1996. Directed by Gregory Hoblit