A Time to Kill is a 1996 movie directed by Joel Schumacher. Based on the novel written by John Grisham, this movie has a truly star-studded cast. Matthew McConaughey, Samuel L. Jackson, Sandra Bullock, and Ashley Judd, make up the main characters in the story. The setting is Clanton, Mississippi, a town still plagued by racism, as well as the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan. The movie is about an African-American man, played by Jackson, who hides out in a courthouse and kills the two white men who brutally raped and injured his young daughter, robbing her of her ability to ever conceive a child of her own. Jackson’s character, Carl Lee Hailey, kills these men because in a similar case four white boys were acquitted after raping a young African-American girl. Carl Lee fears that the seeds of racism are planted too deeply for people to convict these white men and ensure that justice is truly served. As a result of taking matters into his own hands, Carl Lee is arrested and jailed, and charged with the murder of his daughter’s assailants. Throughout the course of the trial, Carl Lee’s attorney, Jake Brigance (played by McConaughey), as well as the other cast members, are constantly faced with serious roadblocks, such as house fires, physical beatings, death threats, and emotional breakdowns.
At the near-end of the movie, Brigance delivers a closing argument before a packed courthouse. His closing argument is not only the psychological culmination of the trial, but the climax of the entire movie. During his closing argument, Jake Brigance instructs the jury members to close their eyes. Confused, they close their eyes, wondering what is to come (ah, the effect of a momentary cliffhanger). Then, slowly, he appeals to all senses of the jurors in his descriptive story during which he paints the painful portrait of the rape of Carl Lee’s daughter. As the camera focuses in on the jurors, one woman has tears streaming out of her closed eyes. (Insert this picture here.) The jurors are overcome by emotions, and it is clear that this is the first moment where all of them are truly considering the evidence of the case minus the pink elephant in the room—the fact that Carl Lee is black. At the end of his closing argument, Brigance leaves the jurors with a dramatic final line that lingers in the air—he tells the jurors to imagine that the little girl in the story is white.
The jury ultimately returns a "not guilty" verdict in favor of Carl Lee—a verdict that would not have resulted but for the articulate and forceful closing argument of Jake Brigance. His ability to tie the case together with the simple use of an emotional story demonstrates just how important closing arguments can be in any given case. Although there are many ways to deliver a closing argument, the attorney in this case does it in a way that appeals to the emotions of the jurors, and in a way that appeals to their overall sense of justice, regardless of race.
Next, we’ll go over the closing argument in an American classic.