Sean Connery stars as a Harvard law professor who leaves his Ivory Tower sanctuary to fight for a Death Row inmate in Florida. Part murder mystery and part social thriller, “Just Cause” will find its most hospitable jury among audiences who aren’t overly familiar with criminal plot procedure.
Basically, “Just Cause” is a legal variation on the fish-out-of-water story as white-hatted professor Paul Armstrong (Connery) wades into the Everglades to do battle, primarily, with black-hatted detective Brown (Laurence Fishburne), who beat a murder confession out of his client Bobby Earl (Blair Underwood), a black man accused of raping and killing a white girl. Brown is a variation on the Rod Steiger local lawman, and he and his partner (Christopher Murray) make life miserable for the visiting professor.
While layering the yarn with some deft psychological touches - detective Brown is clearly resentful of Earl’s good looks and education - and some solid sociological pinions, screenwriters Jeb Stuart and Peter Stone have constructed a good generic piece, although it’s intermittently slowed by static exposition. Unfortunately, director Arne Glimcher’s visualizations are surprisingly dowdy and flat. Neither conveying the flavor of the swampy South nor juicing the story’s murky undercurrents with compositional correlatives, Glimcher’s framings and pacings are disappointingly flat, coagulating finally in a batch of cliched action gumbo.
The talented cast is the film’s strength. With his courtly resolve and steely visage, Connery is perfect as the prideful professor. Fishburne’s simmering performance as the local yokel detective is curdled perfectly, while Ed Harris is electrifying as a condemned killer and Underwood is aptly charismatic as the convicted murderer.
MEMO: This sidebar ran with story: “Just Cause” Location: East Sprague, Newport and Coeur d’Alene cinemas. Cast: Directed by Arne Glimcher, starring Sean Connery, Laurence Fishburne, Kate Capshaw, Blair Underwood, Ed Harris, Christopher Murray, Ruby Dee, Daniel J. Travanti and Ned Beatty Running time: 120 minutes Rating: R