Sunday, August 16, 2009

Anatomy of a Murder. C+

The problem with Otto Preminger's courtroom drama 'Anatomy of a Murder' (based off John D. Voelker's novel) is that there is not a strong moral direction in its story. This is because it's not a trial of misunderstanding. Rather it's a trial of a lawyer standing up for a killer because it's his job. Because he's getting paid to do it. That's not why Atticus Finch in 'To Kill a Mockingbird' stood up for a man accused of rape. In 'AOAM,' Jimmy Stewart plays Paul Biegler, a small-time lawyer who agrees to stand up for a man who killed another man for raping his wife. This is the reason the story doesn't work. We don't feel sympathy for Frederick (the killer) because he killed a man, and thus we can't fully support Biegler in his case. It's a case where to me neither side should win. The supposed enemy in the movie is big time prosecutor Claude Dancer (George C. Scott) but I found myself reasoning with him more than Stewart's character. Another problem I had was the length of the picture; it runs for close to three hours and takes far too long to actually go to court. On the bright side, its still entertaining, as are most trail films. Plus, the acting is solid, though nothing more than what we'd expect from such front line stars. The movie was somewhat controversial upon its release in 1959 due to the stark subject matter and frank dialogue. Preminger was known for this throughout his career. At the end of the movie, Stewart comments that the one good thing he got out of the case was getting a new partner. Even the movie itself seems to admit that there's a sense moral ambiguity in the story.

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