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A Time to Kill (1996 film)

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Title: A Time to Kill (1996 film)  
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Language: English
Subject: NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Motion Picture, A Time to Kill (Grisham novel), Batman & Robin (film), Film scores by Elliot Goldenthal, Films directed by Joel Schumacher
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

A Time to Kill (1996 film)

A Time to Kill
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Joel Schumacher
Produced by Arnon Milchan
John Grisham
Michael Nathanson
Hunt Lowry
Screenplay by Akiva Goldsman
Based on A Time to Kill 
by John Grisham
Starring Sandra Bullock
Samuel L. Jackson
Matthew McConaughey
Kevin Spacey
Brenda Fricker
Oliver Platt
Charles S. Dutton
Ashley Judd
Patrick McGoohan
Donald Sutherland
Music by Elliot Goldenthal
Cinematography Peter Menzies Jr.
Edited by William Steinkamp
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release dates
  • July 24, 1996 (1996-07-24)
Running time
149 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $40 million[1]
Box office $152 million[1]

A Time to Kill is a 1996 American crime drama film adaptation of John Grisham's 1989 novel of the same name, directed by Joel Schumacher. Sandra Bullock, Samuel L. Jackson, Matthew McConaughey, and Kevin Spacey star, with Oliver Platt, Ashley Judd, Kiefer and Donald Sutherland, and Patrick McGoohan appearing in supporting roles. Set in Canton, Mississippi, the film involves the rape of a young girl, the arrest of the rapists, their subsequent murder by the girl's father, and the father's trial for murder. The film was a critical and commercial success, making $152 million at the worldwide box office.[2]


  • Plot 1
  • Cast 2
  • Reception 3
    • Box office performance 3.1
    • Critical reception 3.2
      • Reaction in France 3.2.1
    • Accolades 3.3
  • Soundtrack 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


Two white supremacists (Nicky Katt and Doug Hutchison) come across a ten-year-old black girl named Tonya (Rae'Ven Larrymore Kelly) in rural Mississippi. They violently rape and beat Tonya and dump her in a nearby river after a failed attempt to hang her; she survives, and the men are arrested.

Tonya's father, Carl Lee Hailey (Samuel L. Jackson), contacts Jake Brigance (Matthew McConaughey), a white lawyer. Brigance admits the possibility that the rapists will walk free. Carl Lee goes to the county courthouse and opens fire with a 5.56mm M16 assault rifle, killing both rapists and unintentionally injuring Deputy Looney (Chris Cooper). Carl Lee is arrested. Brigance agrees to defend Carl Lee.

The rape and subsequent revenge killing gain national media attention. The Kiefer Sutherland), the brother of Billy Ray, calls Brigance and makes death threats. The district attorney, Rufus Buckley (Kevin Spacey), decides to seek the death penalty, and presiding Judge Omar Noose denies Brigance a change of venue. Brigance seeks help for his defense team, close friend Harry Rex Vonner and former mentor and long-time liberal activist Lucien Wilbanks (Donald Sutherland), a once-great civil rights lawyer.

During closing arguments, Brigance tells the jury to close their eyes and listen to a story. He describes, in slow and painful detail, the rape of a young 10-year-old girl, mirroring the story of Tonya's rape. He then asks the jury, in his final comment, to "now imagine she's white." It is implied that the father's motive in murdering the rapists would have been seen by the public as justified, and there would have been no prosecution.

The argument Brigance then makes is that if the jury can—at any time—be compelled to spare the life of a white man for a vengeful murder, then they must do the same for a black man. After deliberation, an African-American child runs out of the courthouse and screams, "He's innocent!" Jubilation ensues amongst the supporters outside. The Klan, enraged, becomes violent again. Sheriff Ozzie Walls arrests Freddie Lee, as well as a corrupted deputy that was by Freddie's side. The movie ends when Brigance brings his wife and daughter to a family cookout at Carl Lee's house.



Box office performance

According to, the movie performed well, earning over $108 million domestically.

Critical reception

The film received mostly positive reviews from critics, earning a 67% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 51 reviews,[3] a critical consensus reading: "Overlong and superficial, A Time to Kill nonetheless succeeds on the strength of its skillful craftsmanship and top-notch performances". It has a score of 54 out of 100 on Metacritic, based on 21 reviews.[4]

Roger Ebert gave the film three stars out of four, saying: "I was absorbed by A Time to Kill, and found the performances strong and convincing," and added that "this is the best of the film versions of Grisham novels, I think, and it has been directed with skill by Joel Schumacher."[5]

The film was not without its detractors, however. Anthony Puccinelli gave the film one star, calling it "worthless" and remarking: "A Time to Kill argues for vigilantism but disguises its message by making the vigilante black, allowing viewers to think their blood lust and thirst for revenge is actually empathy for the oppressed."[6] Peter Travers felt that "they [Schumacher and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman] cram[med] in too much," adding, "This distracts from the heart of the picture, which is in the bond between Carl Lee (the brilliant 0[Samuel L.] Jackson is quietly devastating) and Jake, a husband and father who knows he, too, would have shot anyone who raped his little girl."[7]

Grisham enjoyed the film, remarking: "When all was said and done I was happy with it, happy we were able to find a kid like Matthew McConaughey. It wasn't a great movie, but it was a good one."[8]

Reaction in France

In France, the film has been the subject of much controversy. Critics have accused the movie of making an apology for the death penalty and right of self-defense. A question mark was added at the end of the title ("Le Droit de tuer ?"/"The Right to Kill ?"[9][10]) so as not to shock the audience. Amnesty International France uses the word "disturbing" when referring to the film in one of its documents.[11] Les Inrockuptibles described the film as "nauseating", "stinking", almost "fascist", with a script "ultra-populist" that makes you want to "vomit".[12] Libération criticized the script, calling it "extremely dirty": the movie, says the newspaper, "militates in favour of the black cause only to legitimize, after many plot buckles (resurrection of the Ku Klux Klan, the deceits of court, threats [of m]any kinds) the mentally ill gesture of the avenging father". According to Libération, the movie "justifies the indefensible" with a "dripping sentimentalism". [13]


  • Golden Globe - Best Supporting Actor - Samuel L. Jackson - Nominated
  • NAACP Image Award - Best Supporting Actor in a film - Samuel L. Jackson - Nominated
  • Blockbuster Entertainment Award - Favorite Actress - Suspense - Sandra Bullock - Won
  • MTV Movie Awards - Best Female Performance - Sandra Bullock - Nominated
  • MTV Movie Awards - Best Breakthrough Performance - Matthew McConaughey - Won
  • Razzie Award - Worst Written Film Grossing Over $100 Million - Akiva Goldsman - Nominated
  • Stinkers Bad Movie Awards - Worst Supporting Actress - Brenda Fricker - Nominated


A Time to Kill
Soundtrack album by Elliot Goldenthal
Released August 20, 1996
Genre Classical, avant-garde, modernist
Length 35:02
Label Atlantic
Producer Matthias Gohl
Elliot Goldenthal chronology
Michael Collins
A Time to Kill
The Butcher Boy

Elliot Goldenthal scored the film. AllMusic gave the soundtrack two and a half stars out of five, commenting that it "doesn't work particularly well when it's separated from the film itself."[14]

  1. "Defile and Lament" – 2:33
  2. "Consolation" – 2:23
  3. "Justice Wheel" – 0:46
  4. "Pavane for Solace" – 2:29
  5. "Abduction" – 2:58
  6. "An Asurrendering" – 1:35
  7. "Pavane for Loss" – 1:07
  8. "Take My Hand Precious Lord & Retribution" by The Jones Sisters – 6:50
  9. "Torch and Hood" – 2:02
  10. "Pressing Judgement" – 1:29
  11. "White Sheet" – 2:38
  12. "Pavane for Solace" (piano solo) – 2:06
  13. "Verdict Fanfare" (For Aaron) – 4:03
  14. "Take My Hand Precious Lord" – 4:03
  • Music composed by Elliot Goldenthal (except 8 and 14)
  • Music produced by Matthias Gohl
  • Orchestrated by Robert Elhai and Elliot Goldenthal
  • Conducted by Jonathan Sheffer
  • Recorded and mixed by Joel Iwataki
  • Electronic music produced by Richard Martinez
  • Additional orchestrations by Deniz Hughes

See also


  1. ^ a b "A Time to Kill - Box Office Data". The Numbers. Retrieved 8 August 2011. 
  2. ^ at Box Office MojoA Time to Kill
  3. ^ A Time to Kill Movie Reviews, Pictures - Rotten Tomatoes
  4. ^ A Time to Kill Reviews, Ratings, Credits, and More at Metacritic
  5. ^ "A Time To Kill". Chicago Sun-Times. 
  6. ^ Chicago Reader
  7. ^ "Movie Reviews and Ratings from Peter Travers | Rolling Stone Movies". Retrieved 2013-12-12. 
  8. ^ "Grisham v. Grisham: John Grisham issues judgment on ALL his novels" Tina Jordan, Entertainment Weekly, Feb 13, 2004
  9. ^ Le Droit de tuer ? (1996) - AlloCiné
  10. ^ A time to kill - Cinémathèque française
  11. ^
  12. ^ Les Inrocks : Le Droit de tuer ?
  13. ^ CINEMA. Sur fond de conflit racial et d'autodéfense, un «Droit de - Libération
  14. ^ A Time to Kill (1996 film) at AllMusic

External links

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