Before more closely examining the explicit or implicit statements made about the legal profession by each of these films, it will be useful to first briefly summarize their main plot lines. Following the examination of the protrayals in these movies, we will consider how the picture drawn of the legal profession relates to broader conventions of Hollywood portrayal, and to assumptions implicit in the popular culture.
In "And Justice For All," Al Pacino plays a criminal defense attorney in Philadelphia. (Each of these films takes place in a big-city environment; in some the city is explicitly named; in others a fictional but probably East Coast city is implied.)
"Presumed Innocent" is the only film of these four whose protagonist, Harrison Ford, is a prosecutor instead of a defense attorney. However, he is the defendent in the trial, charged with the murder of his mistress on the eve of an election for District Attorney. In the course of the film, it turns out that his boss (the District Attorney), the successful challenger for the DA's job, and the prosecutor on his case are all part of a complex political conspiracy. The judge eventually dismisses the case in order to prevent his own involvement in corruption from being revealed, and it is revealed at the end that the actual murderer was Ford's jealous wife.
"Suspect" and "Presumed Innocent" both deal with political corruption. In "Suspect," Cher is a defense lawyer defending a homeless man charged in a murder. Eventually, engaging in an unofficial investigation of the case along with juror Dennis Quaid, she discovers that the murderer is in fact the judge presiding over her case, who killed his secretary to prevent disclosure of a previous incident in which he "fixed" the outcome of a trial.
These lawyers are, in other words, not lower-class figures. Instead they fall into the class of elite villains, akin to the broad class of ruthless businessmen and sophisticatedly corrupt politicians that populate many other films. This is even more strongly true of the bad judges, who (with the partial exception, perhaps, of the grandfatherly but insane presiding judge in "And Justice For All," all convey a magisterial aspect from the bench. The most corrupt or criminal judges in these films are portrayed as white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, of impeccably upper-middle-class background, who are all too comfortable in positions of authority and looking forward to further promotion. Except in "Suspect," these judges are moreover part of a political network that serves to protect them.
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