A Time to Kill

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A Time to Kill is a 1996 American crime drama film based on John Grisham's 1989 novel of the same name.

The film was directed by Joel Schumacher and starred Samuel L. Jackson, Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Bullock, Kevin Spacey, Kiefer & Donald Sutherland, Ashley Judd, Oliver Platt & Patrick McGoohan.


Spoiler warning: The following contains plot details about
the entire movie.
Two white supremacists (Nicky Katt and Doug Hutchison) come across a ten-year-old black girl named Tonya (Rae'Ven Larrymore Kelly) in rural Mississippi. They violently rape and beat Tonya and dump her in a nearby river after a failed attempt to hang her; she survives, and the men are arrested.

Tonya's father, Carl Lee Hailey (Samuel L. Jackson), contacts Jake Brigance (Matthew McConaughey), a white lawyer. Brigance admits the possibility that the rapists will walk free. Carl Lee goes to the county courthouse and opens fire with a 5.56mm M-16 full-automatic rifle, killing both rapists and unintentionally injuring Deputy Looney (Chris Cooper). Carl Lee is arrested. Brigance agrees to defend Carl Lee.

The rape and subsequent revenge killing gain national media attention. The Ku Klux Klan begins to organize in the area. Freddie Lee Cobb (Kiefer Sutherland), the brother of Billy Ray, calls Brigance and makes death threats and escalating, supportive acts of violence.

The district attorney, Rufus Buckley (Kevin Spacey), decides to seek the death penalty, and presiding Judge Omar Noose (Patrick McGoohan) denies Brigance a change of venue. Brigance seeks help from his defense team: law student Ellen Roark (Sandra Bullock), close friend Harry Rex Vonner (Oliver Platt) and former mentor and long-time liberal activist Lucien Wilbanks (Donald Sutherland), a once-great civil rights lawyer.

During closing arguments, Brigance tells the jury to close their eyes and listen to a story. He describes in slow and painful detail the rape of a young 10-year-old girl, recalling the story of Tonya's rape. He then asks the jury, in his final comment, to "now imagine she's white."

The statement implies that, had the defendant been white, the father's motive in murdering the rapists would have been seen by the public as justified, and there would have been no prosecution. It also implies that if the jury can — at any time — be compelled to spare the life of a white man for a vengeful murder, then they must do the same for a black man.

After deliberation, an African-American child runs out of the courthouse and screams, "He's innocent!" Jubilation ensues amongst the supporters outside. Enraged, The Klan begins yelling in anger. Meanwhile, Sheriff Ozzie Walls manages to arrest Freddie Lee for his crimes as well as a corrupted deputy that was by Freddie's side.

The movie ends when Brigance brings his wife and daughter to a family cookout at Carl Lee's house to celebrate Carl's freedom.



Joel Schumacher originally offered the lead role to Val Kilmer during the production of Batman Forever, but Kilmer declined. Kevin Costner was considered for the role of Jake Brigance, but he wanted complete control of the project, but John Grisham objected to it and Costner ended up passing on the project.

Woody Harrelson wanted to play the role of Jake Brigance, but John Grisham objected to his casting. Other actors considered for the lead role included Alec Baldwin, Brad Pitt, Bill Paxton, Ralph Fiennes and Aidan Quinn.

Matthew McConaughey was originally cast as Freddie Lee Cobb, but after reading the script, he preferred the role of Jake Brigance. He went to director Joel Schumacher, who granted him a private screen test.

Paul Newman turned down the role of Lucien Wilbanks because he found the film's message distasteful. Donald Sutherland reportedly wanted Lucien Wilbanks to be much more of a radical drunkard, but Joel Schumacher wanted a mostly serious drama and said that it would be too much comic relief.

Filming Locations

The filming dates for "A Time to Kill" took place from September to December of 1995. It was filmed in London, Ontario, Canada, Tampa, Florida and Canton, Mississippi.

Box Office Performance

"A Time to Kill" topped the box office, grossing $14,823,159 during its opening weekend.

Critical Reception

The film received mostly positive reviews from critics, earning a 67% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 51 reviews.

According to the critical consensus, "Overlong and superficial, A Time to Kill nonetheless succeeds on the strength of its skillful craftsmanship and top-notch performances".

It has a score of 54 out of 100 on Metacritic, based on 21 reviews.

Roger Ebert gave the film three stars out of four, saying: "I was absorbed by A Time to Kill, and found the performances strong and convincing," and added that "this is the best of the film versions of Grisham novels, I think, and it has been directed with skill by Joel Schumacher."

However, the film was not without its detractors.

Anthony Puccinelli gave the film one star, calling it "worthless", saying: "A Time to Kill argues for vigilantism but disguises its message by making the vigilante black, allowing viewers to think their blood lust and thirst for revenge is actually empathy for the oppressed."

Peter Travers felt that "they [Schumacher and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman] cram[med] in too much," adding, "This distracts from the heart of the picture, which is in the bond between Carl Lee (the brilliant [Samuel L.] Jackson is quietly devastating) and Jake, a husband and father who knows he, too, would have shot anyone who raped his little girl."

Grisham enjoyed the film, saying: "When all was said and done I was happy with it, happy we were able to find a kid like Matthew McConaughey. It wasn't a great movie, but it was a good one."


1997 Golden Globes

  • Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture: Samuel L. Jackson (nominated)

1997 ASCAP Film and Television Music Awards

  • Top Box Office Films: Elliot Goldenthal (won)

1997 Blockbuster Entertainment Awards

  • Favorite Actress- Suspense: Sandra Bullock (won)
  • Favorite Supporting Actor - Suspense: Samuel L. Jackson (nominated)

1997 Chicago Film Critics Association Awards

  • Most Promising Actor: Matthew McConaghey (nominated)

1997 Grammy Awards

  • Best Instrumental Composition Written for a Motion Picture or for Television: Elliot Goldenthal (for "Defile and Lament") (nominated)

1997 Image Awards

  • Outstanding Motion Picture (won)
  • Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture: Samuel L. Jackson (won)
  • Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture: Charles S. Dutton (nominated)
  • Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture: Tonea Stewart (nominated)
  • Outstanding Youth Actor\Actress: Rae'ven Larrymore Kelly (nominated)

1996 Jupiter Award

  • Best International Actress: Sandra Bullock (won)

1997 MTV Movie Awards

  • Best Breakthrough Performance: Matthew McConaghey (won)
  • Best Female Performance: Sandra Bullock (nominated)
  • Best Villain: Kiefer Sutherland (nominated)

1997 Online Film & Television Association Awards

  • Best Supporting Actor: Samuel L. Jackson (nominated)

1997 Razzie Awards

  • Worst Written Film Grossing Over $100 Million: Avika Goldsman (nominated)

The Stinkers Bad Movie Awards (1996)

  • Worst Supporting Actress: Brenda Fricker (nominated)

1997 YoungStar Awards

  • Best Performance by a Young Actress in a Drama Film: Rae'ven Larrymore Kelly (nominated)

Theatrical Trailer

A Time To Kill Trailer
A Time To Kill Trailer
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