I first saw the movie when I was about 13 years old and it horrified me a little bit. Rape and murder and the capital punishment were all a little over my head. The next time I saw the movie was this past year. I saw it three times. The movie is gripping. Then again, what John Grisham book-turned-movie isn’t? I remembered being keen on reading the book when I was in high school, but somehow never got to it. After rewatching the movie, I was determined to get my hands on the book. I went in with very high expectations, and was interestingly puzzled by my overall reaction towards it.
To sum it up for those of you who haven’t read it yet, this is a story about a 10-year-old black girl who gets raped brutally by two white men. She is beaten, her bones are broken, she is strangled and thrown off a bridge to die. The men get caught almost immediately and a trial is set. Before procedures can commence, the black girl’s father, Carl Lee, murders them with an M-16 in the courthouse. Now Carl Lee is on trial, facing an all-white jury in rural Mississippi. His white liberal lawyer, Jake Brigance, battles with a ruthless chapter of the Klu Klux Klan and the justice system to “Free Carl Lee”.
While the movie focuses more on the elements of racism, the Klu Klux Klan, and the horror that the case brings upon all those involved in it, the book surprisingly focuses a great deal more on the jury and the intricacies of the court case. I’m not surprised, considering that this is John Grisham’s forté and it’s what I love him for. But I wasn’t expecting such great detail, after watching the way the movie was handled. My brain began to struggle a bit halfway through. The book reminded me of the movie Runaway Jury (also a John Grisham adaptation). So there I was, trying to picture Matthew Mcconaughey and Sandra Bullock in my head, but all at once the judge from Runaway Jury would precede instead of the one from A Time to Kill. John Cusack would suddenly be on the jury stands instead of the normal citizens of Clanton, Mississippi. It was hard to process at times because I didn’t know what story I was in anymore. It’s amazing what movies can do to warp your sense of a book! Don’t get me wrong though, both movies were spectacular. Perhaps if you haven’t watched either of them yet, read the books before watching the movies 😉
Ultimately I found it interesting that the book left most of the striking judicial movements to the jury, including one very moving speech, while the movie left it all up to Matthew Mcconaughey’s character, Jake Brigance. Grisham’s portrayal of Brigance was much less pleasant than the Brigance from the movie.
Movie vs. book comparisons aside, Grisham tells one hell of a story. I found myself wishing I could immerse myself back in the trial procedures every moment that I was not holding the book (ahem, kindle) in my hands. What I truly enjoyed was that Grisham stays away from the stale debate of capital punishment: yay or nay. He doesn’t even preach with the justice system. In fact this book, like a great many Grisham novels, opens readers’ eyes to the fact that the justice system is not always correct. Or is it? A subject that I will never cease to find fascinating, given my predisposition to criminal law.
*Note: Sometimes, I will give a book three snitches because that was my overall reaction towards the book. However, I will give it a 5 snitch recommendation rate because I really want to hear other people’s reactions to the content of the book. It’s a worthy read.