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Laws that made movies

9th January 2015

Some of our best-loved films have been inspired by shocking acts of crime. From terrible murders that have influenced horrors to complicated cases and class actions, the film industry has made countless true movies inspired by what has gone on in various court rooms across the world, where the sense of what people believe to be right and wrong is exploited on screen to get audiences to really think about what it is they are watching.

This is made all the more striking in the case of true movies, particularly with law students and those looking for full-time and temporary legal jobs, where such productions may have even sparked their initial interest in the law and encouraged their chosen career.

Here we list some of the biggest films to have been inspired by court cases and the law.

Erin Brockovich (2000)

Borne out of the captivating narrative of a woman by the same name who becomes a legal clerk, having no formal background or education in the law, Brockovich, played by Julia Roberts in the 2000 film, is assigned a position with lawyer Edward L. Masry, based in Thousand Oaks, California. Upon her assignment she gains an interest in a certain real-estate case where she is surprised to see medical records included in the file. Brockovich goes on to uncover unsafe levels of hexavalent chromium in the drinking water of Hinkley, California, as a result of Pacific Gas and Electric’s (PG&E) error in using the substance to fight corrosion in the cooling tower they had possession of in the area. The case that Brockovich brought forward with her attorneys stands as the largest ever settlement paid in a direct-action lawsuit in US history at $333 million.

North Country (2005)

In another film with a strong female lead, Charlize Theron plays the part of Josey Aimes, who is inspired by the real-life Lois Jenson, who is famed for bringing to court the first class-action sexual harassment lawsuit in the United States against EVTAC mine in Eveleth, Minnesota. The 2005 film depicts the story of Jenson who, upon securing her job at the mine, endures a constant stream of abuse and hostile behaviour from her male colleagues. The case was granted class-action status in 1991 and after a long legal battle, the women of the mines settled with Eveleth Mines for $3.5 million in 1998 before a final trial. More can be read about the case in this interview with Jenson from the Guardian.

Chicago (2002)

Not many realise that the famous musical is actually inspired by two real murder trials. The characters of Velma Kelly, played by Catherine Zeta-Jones in the 2002 film adaptation, and Roxie Hart, played by Renée Zellweger, are based on Belva Gaertner and Beulah Annan respectively and their status as suspected murderers. The original play by Maurine Dallas Watkins, which was published under the same name as the film, is based on two separate trials she covered as a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, which later became a successful musical and then one of the true movies that makes this list of law-inspired films.

Films that inspire

Next to these true movies based on real-life cases there are also a number of films that, although not based on real-life events and facts, have a profound effect on its viewers and have helped inspired many to look into solicitor jobs and careers. Here are two that tackle controversial laws and regulations whilst meeting critical acclaim for their plots and direction.

Philadelphia (1993)

Starring Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington, this film is now regarded by many as a classic as one of the first to acknowledge HIV/AIDS, homosexuality and homophobia. In the film, Andrew Beckett, played by Hanks, is fired from his position of Senior Associate at the largest corporate law firm in Philadelphia. Beckett believes that he has been fired by the firm due to his contraction of AIDS and his sexual orientation and seeks out an attorney to take his case in which he looks to sue the firm for unfair dismissal. Beckett appeals to several attorneys to take on his case, including Joe Miller, played by Washington, who all refuse to represent him, leaving Beckett with no other option than to represent himself. The film looks at homophobic actions and feelings, illustrated by Washington’s portrayal of Miller who eventually overcomes his prejudices.

A Time to Kill (1996)

While not based on true events, A Time to Kill starring Matthew McConaughey, Samuel L. Jackson and Sandra Bullock, is based on the 1989 John Grisham novel of the same name. The narrative centres on racial feeling in 80s Mississippi in which a father is taken to court for the murder of his ten-year-old daughter’s two rapists. While not based on fact, the novel is inspired by Grisham’s witnessing of a distressing testimony of a 12-year-old rape victim at the De Soto County courthouse in Hernando in 1984; this led Grisham to wonder what would have happened if the girl’s father had murdered her assailants, according to a statement posted on his website.

These are just a handful of films inspired by real-life court cases and the law and act as a thought-provoking insight into human psychology and the justice system as a whole.

Image Credit: Direitos Urbanos (flickr.com)