True stories make for fantastic movies, especially when law-and-order are part of the topography. Given my love of factual pieces, and the recent climate of anarchy vs. authority, I thought discussing some good legal-eagle Netflix picks would be a good way to kick off the New Year. The four movies I have selected are all based on real-life law related events, and all are worth the watch. Let’s discuss each story in order of their actual chronological timeline as follows:
Operation Finale (2018) directed by Chris Weitzis is a great film to discuss given the apparent recent uprising of autocracy in a number of countries including the USA. This movie centers on the 1960 mission to capture Nazi Adolf Eichmann (brilliantly played by Ben Kingsley) from Argentina where he had been living freely with his family incognito under the alias ‘Ricardo Klement’. However, extradition procedures are not always easy and in fact, in Argentina at that time they were downright prohibited. Therefore, the suspense of this story focuses on how Mossad agents, particularly Peter Malkin (Oscar Isaac) whose sister and three children were killed by the Nazis, will find a way to successfully transport this notorious evil monster to Israel to stand trial for horrendous war crimes against humanity during WWII, namely people of Jewish decent. For those unfamiliar with the backstory of Adolf Eichmann, he was one of Hitler’s top henchmen who maliciously partook in unconscionable atrocities and was responsible for leading millions to their death. Although this movie plods along at times the ending is most satisfying as it reinstates some faith that terrible wrongs will not go unpunished! Accountability matters. On this point, Eichmann tried to rationalize his sociopathic actions to the Israeli leader stating, ‘I was not a responsible leader, and as such do not feel myself guilty’. But unlike author Hannah Arendt who demanded we rethink concepts of moral responsibility and reframe the awful acts committed by Adolf Eichmann as someone just following orders; in her words, ‘the banality of evil’, I say forget that! This is no defense. Case in point, the main message of this film is that innocent guiltless people do not willfully mask their identity. Exposed vs. Concealed – you can run but you can’t hide, especially from yourself. No matter how you project your image to the public you always know who you are and what you have done. Period. Let’s leave this discussion there – hanged on these words! Wink wink.
The Trial of The Chicago 7 (2020) is an amazing dramatization of seven freedom fighters on trial for anti-Vietnam war protests during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Written and directed by Aaron Sorkin this star-studded film explores the questionable behavior of real-life activists, namely, hippies Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Jerry Rubin (Jereme Strong), along with passivist David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch), clean cut future senator Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne), anti-war protestor Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp) and protesting bystanders John Froines (Daniel Flaherty), and Lee Weiner (Noah Robbins) who were charged with conspiracy as well as crossing state lines with the intent to incite a riot, that saw five of the seven defendants found guilty of unlawful conduct. That said, let’s not forget about the eighth man on trial, Black Panther’s Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) who was eventually released but the way law enforcement inhumanely treated him was truly appalling. Actor Mark Rylance does a stellar job playing defense attorney William Kunstler who uncovers the shocking truths that encompass the attorney general at the time John Mitchell (John Doman) and his predecessor Ramsey Clark (Michael Keaton) as it relates to this trial. It is worth stating that Joseph Gordon-Levitt who plays conscientious prosecutor Richard Shultz and Frank Langella who plays controversial Judge Julius Hoffman, also give notable performances in this film. In short, this is a compelling movie with a very clear takeaway message. Certitude vs. Subjugation – valuing human life and upholding one’s true convictions is the noblest of all deeds. Sacrificing for the greater good is what these convicted men did, including defending freedom-of-speech, a critical component of any democratic system today as it was a half a century ago when this trial took place. Overall this film is inspiring, and I love that this movie ends with providing facts of the real people involved, but just know some of details and updates might make you sad.
The Children Act (2017) is based on Ian McEwan’s novel of the same name and deals with complex and exceedingly principled matters, particularly a 1993 case of a very ill teenage boy dramatized as Adam Henry (Fionn Whitehead) in the film who refuses treatment due to religious restrictions. Directed by Richard Eyre this movie stars Emma Thompson who plays highly respected and extremely bright High Court Judge Fiona Maye whose decision-making authority holds the fate of this young man in her hands along with other similarly challenging cases regarding the fate of children. The story ironically revolves around Fiona, a childless magistrate, who has the power to choose what is legally best for children and their parents, while she herself deals with her own barren marital problems. Mainly her love-starved cheating husband Jack (Stanley Tucci) who has grown indifferent towards her due to her lack of availability. There is no doubt being a judge is hard work and takes a great deal of time, which can come at a high personal cost. However, the takeaway message of this film is that right or wrong, people want to be the arbiters of their own lives, and when given the chance, they want to make their own decisions. Not follow abstract rules imposed upon them by others. Verdicts vs. Choices – ‘I have spread my dreams under your feet. Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.’ – W.B. Yeats. It is no surprise that Irish poet William Butler Yeats plays prominently in this British based film, especially given that Ireland is always fighting for their independence. Food for thought: when in a position of making choices on behalf of others do not take the job lightly. This is an intelligent high-minded movie that keeps audiences captivated, though the ending leaves more questions than answers. Fast fact: The Children Act was originally enacted in 1989 and was last amended in 2004 with the guiding principle of safeguarding the rights and welfare of UK children – overall it is a good thing.
The Laundromat (2019) is an adaptation of Jake Bernstein’s non-fiction book entitled Secrecy World consisting of a disturbing series of stories that hinge on true events associated with the 2016 Panama Papers scandal. As the story builds the plot thickens and at its pinnacle leaves audiences enraged by displaying just how damaging off-shore tax schemes are. In short, they destroy low and middle-class people while making others billionaires. Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas play law partners in crime Jürgen Mossack and Ramon Fonseca who find themselves in hot water for the misconduct of their Panama City firm. Allstar actress Meryl Streep brilliantly plays a fictitious widow, who ends up investigating their company for insurance fraud after losing her husband to an avoidable accident. Doing so leads to uncovering the firm’s underhanded shameless shenanigans and how the organization ducks and dives its responsibilities via ‘shell companies’. It is sickening to watch. Actors David Schwimmer, Matthias Shoenaerts, and Sharon Stone also co-star in this expose film that originally debuted at the Venice Film Festival. The main message of this movie is a classic capitalist fable – the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Think of Bernie Madoff and his ponzi scheme as this is a similar story. Some filth just can’t be whitewashed but my-oh-my when these rotten wrong-doers have to face consequences it sure is a welcomed stain that victims are happy can’t be easily removed. Scam vs. Justness – American economist Alan Greenspan (5 Term USA Federal Reserve System Chairman) who I was lucky enough to hear speak when he came to Calgary in 2009 said it best; ‘Corruption, embezzlement, fraud, these are all characteristics which exist everywhere. It is regrettably the way human nature functions, whether we like it or not. What successful economies do is keep it to a minimum. No one has ever eliminated any of that stuff.’ How unfortunate. That said, the ending of this movie is most rewarding.
Note: Two other fictional honorable mentions that can be accessed on Netflix are State of Play (2009; Russell Crowe, Rachel McAdams, & Ben Affleck) and The Lincoln Lawyer (2011; Matthew McConaughey & Marisa Tomei) neither are true stories but are interesting legal-centric films with solid plots and good life lessons of wrongs put right. That said, if you really like fact-based law related movies there are three vintage courtroom dramas not on Netflix but definitely worth the watch, and all are loosely based on true events as follows: The Verdict (1982; Paul Newman), True Believer (1989; James Woods & Robert Downey Jr.), Philadelphia (1993; Tom Hanks & Denzel Washington). Each of these films end well with justice for all. Speaking of which, I also really like the movie entitled And Justice For All (1979; Al Pacino). It is not a true story but impactful all the same.
P.S. I have had a great deal of experience dealing with the law and certainly enough to know that having good lawyers in your corner is a blessing. Therefore, it makes me really happy knowing my son Oje has chosen this honorable profession to pursue; recently graduating with a Masters Degree in International Law receiving a First with Distinction, he is now planning to do a PhD in Human Rights Law in the UK. What a great career choice. Also, given his good heart coupled with his good brain I anticipate he will do a fine job for any clients that come his way. An aside; life can be so wonderfully strange. As it turns out Pipella Law who represented me years ago is the same law firm where Oje is doing his internship. Talk about going full circle! Wow. Final thoughts; I along with my fellow Canadians are very distressed to see the insurrection happening in the USA and we are so sad that five people lost their lives at the US Capital in Washington D.C. Like Canada, America represents Democracy not Autocracy! Peace and love to all.