Viewer Guide: And Justice For All and The Calling

February 21, 2020 | Richard Peña


And Justice for All (1979)

This week’s classic is And Justice For All, a 1979 drama directed by Norman Jewison.

In one of his most memorable, signature roles, Al Pacino stars as Arthur Kirkland, a passionate Baltimore defense lawyer who, despite the corruption and chaos swirling around him, is determined to be one of the good guys in the legal system. When we first meet Arthur, he’s spent the night in jail for taking a swing at Judge Henry Fleming, a by-the-book conservative played by John Forsythe. Arthur lost his cool over Judge Fleming’s handling of one of his cases, an innocent man whose arrest for a broken tail light keeps escalating into an ever-deepening legal nightmare. Underdogs are Arthur’s passion as well as his specialty, and he soon finds himself defending another one in the form of Ralph Agee, a transgender person with a dread terror of doing jail time. Arthur finds solace—and inside intelligence—from Gail Packer, the lone female member of the court’s self-policing ethics committee, played by Christine Lahti in her first movie role. But when Judge Fleming unexpectedly finds himself on the wrong side of the law and requests that Arthur defend him, the former enemies suddenly become the strangest of legal bedfellows, with Arthur finding it harder and harder to remain “the good guy” he’s always tried to be.

Also featured in supporting roles are the legendary method acting coach Lee Strasberg as Arthur’s grandfather, Jeffrey Tambor as Arthur’s fellow lawyer, Dominic Chianese as another demanding client, and Jack Warden as a gonzo judge with a singular way of quieting a courtroom.

And Justice For All provides a wonderfully atmospheric time capsule of the post-Watergate 1970s, with a sarcastic disillusionment coloring Hollywood’s view of civic institutions—a cynical attitude that hasn’t exactly gone away. At times reminiscent of the stinging satire of Paddy Chayefsky’s The Hospital and Network, And Justice For All still manages to retain a genial and even hopeful tone in the face of so much disturbing corruption, largely due to Al Pacino’s engaging performance. Vaulting to movie superstardom with The Godfather in 1972, Pacino was also considering accepting what would become Dustin Hoffman’s role in Kramer Vs. Kramer before deciding to sign on for And Justice For All. Pacino was especially pleased to be working again with his method acting mentor Lee Strasberg, who had made a return to acting with Pacino in 1974 with The Godfather Part 2. But Pacino’s penchant for ad-libbing and his aversion to learning lines for fear it would ruin his spontaneity became so problematic during production that even Strasberg finally had to implore his protégé to “learn your lines, dahlink!” The film garnered Pacino one of his classic movie line quotes with “You’re out of order!” along with his fifth Oscar nomination…but in the end he lost out to another actor’s indelible performance that year—Dustin Hoffman in Kramer Vs. Kramer.


The Calling (2014)

This week’s indie is The Calling, a 2014 suspense thriller directed by Jason Stone.

Susan Sarandon stars as Hazel Micallef, a police detective in the rural Canadian town of Fort Dundas, Ontario. From the looks of things, it doesn’t seem like there’s usually all that much to investigate in Fort Dundas, providing Hazel with ample time to surreptitiously self-medicate with alcohol and pills, a longtime dependency that originated years before from a hospital stay for back surgery, as well as a miscarriage. But one day while checking in on an elderly resident, Hazel makes the horrifying discovery of the woman’s brutal murder, a shocking event that is followed days later by another killing bearing bizarre similarities, with the victims’ mouths frozen in distinct formations, as if they were saying or even singing something at the time of their deaths. And when a spooky stranger going by the name of “Simon,” played by Christopher Heyerdahl, turns up in town, offering a homemade medicinal tea to susceptible strangers, Hazel begins to connect some disturbing dots: could there be a serial killer preying on the helpless in sleepy Fort Dundas?

Also featured in supporting roles are Ellen Burstyn as Hazel’s mother, Gil Bellows as Hazel’s fellow detective, Topher Grace as the town’s new police recruit, and Donald Sutherland as an aging priest whose knowledge of Latin—and ancient Catholic ritual—provides Hazel with the unexpected key to unraveling the mystery.

Adapted from the novel by Inger Ash Wolfe, The Calling was produced by Canadians Scott Abramovitch and Lonny Dubrofsky, who first met in the early 90s when Abramovitch was a bat boy for the Montreal Expos and Dubrofsky was a radio broadcast producer for the team. Intrigued with the book’s religious-themed mystery by a Canadian author and optimistic about the property’s commercial potential, the two Jewish producers initially assumed that director Jason Stone could help them flesh out the finer points of Christian ritual featured in the plot—but when Stone turned out to be Jewish as well, the trio looked further to the novel’s author—only to discover that “Inger Ash Wolfe” was in fact a pen name for Jewish writer Michael Redhill. Fortunately, the Anglo-Italian Susan Sarandon was on hand to lend the production not only her star power but her expertise in Catholicism, gleaned from her childhood years attending Catholic schools as well as The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, where she received a BA in Drama. Abramovitch and Dubrofsky’s history with the Expos proved useful in attracting the interest of Donald Sutherland, another fellow Canadian and diehard fan of the fabled team, who for years would call in to the Expos office from international locations to listen to entire games over the phone. Now that’s a religious calling that nobody can deny!

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