The 1990s were the years when films based on the then popular writer John Grisham were widely shot in Hollywood. And almost all of these films, from The Client, The Company, to The Pelican Case, achieved fine success at the box office, although critics of these somewhat formulaic thrillers had a divided opinion. “A Time to Kill”, a somewhat moralistic thriller – a court drama directed by Joel Schumacher and set in the American South – also achieved exceptional success. One of the reasons why “Killing Time” earned more than 150 million dollars is certainly hidden in the fact that Schumacher gathered a quality cast made up of proven stars like Samuel L. Jackson or Sandra Bullock or some new young and not so young faces like Matthew McConaughey, Ashley Judd or Kevin Spacey who will become stars very soon.
The role of the young lawyer Jake Taylor Brigance was the first leading role in the career of the then young actor from Texas McConaughey, and it is one of a series of stories that irresistibly resemble the classic “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, which was made into a legendary movie in the early sixties. As soon as the plot is set in the American South, it is clear that there is a racial issue involved. As Grisham was also born and raised in the American South, such topics were obviously close to him. “Killing Time” was actually his first book that went unnoticed until the following titles became bestsellers.
He came up with the idea for the story based on a real case from the mid-eighties when he listened to the testimony of a 12-year-old black girl who was raped and savagely beaten by drunken privates. He thought then, he said later, that he then had a shotgun with him to kill that scum, and what he imagined, he would do in his book, and later in the movie, Carl Lee Henry (Jackson), the father of the raped girl. In the courtroom, he will shoot two imbeciles who raped his daughter with a rifle, injuring a policeman along the way, and it was a young, inexperienced, but moral lawyer who accepted the gratuitous task of defending a vengeful father. So even though the action takes place somewhere in the eighties, it is still at its core the old, racist South where whites are privileged compared to blacks, and it is clear that a case like this in Mississippi will attract the attention of the national media as well.
In order to try to get his angry father out of prison, the young lawyer will try to play the insanity card, but the fact that he decided to defend a black man who shot white people in cold blood will be enough to put Jake in danger not only for himself, but also for his family. The Ku Klux Klan will reactivate in that district and its ringleader will become the brother of the murdered man (Kiefer Sutherland), and the only help for Jake will be his old mentor (Donald Sutherland) and a young law graduate from the north (Bullock) who has experience in similar cases. It’s a film that you can’t really complain about, but somehow as soon as it starts, you can guess how it will develop and how it will unravel.