“Just Cause” has all the ingredients of another boring courtroom thriller. There’s the crusading lawyer, the corrupt cop, his evil deputy, the innocent man on death row and the insane serial killer. All these characters play an important part and are interwoven into the mystery of who the real killer is.
But “Just Cause” is more than that. It’s also suspenseful, interesting and occasionally scary. Its success in those areas is due to a good script and excellent performances.
Sean Connery is Professor Paul Armstrong. Armstrong is approached by the mother of Bobby Earl Ferguson (Blair Underwood) and asked to come to his rescue. Ferguson, a black man, was wrongly accused of savagely raping and murdering a young white girl and is now on death row. Identifying Earl as an innocent victim of racist Southern courts, Armstrong takes his case and heads down to Earl’s small hometown in Florida.
There, after snooping around asking questions about the murder, he is harassed by detective Tanny Brown (Laurence Fishburne), who would like to keep the killing in the past. Armstrong’s probing does produce evidence, and once Bobby Earl’s innocence had been proved, the hunt for the killer begins and the film takes off.
Unlike many recent star-studded films, “Just Cause” has bite. It contains some real suspense and tension. These evolve from the script, but the cheap shocks guaranteed to make you jump are sprinkled throughout effectively.
Another nice thing about “Just Cause” is its pace. Not a minute is wasted in the two-hour running time. From the first scenes, the plot is set into motion and there’s no letting up from then on.
The other strong point of the film is the acting. Connery is very good as Armstrong. He is again a dependable performer - fun to watch and easy to like. Fishburne is a standout in his portrayal of Brown, a man who will play Russian roulette with witnesses. But the actor who leaves the biggest impression is Ed Harris as a murderous and totally insane psychopath on death row who holds the key to the real killer’s identity.
“Just Cause” is more complicated and involving than it appears. It’s definitely worth a look for suspense fans.
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