Friday, December 5, 2008

The Cat's in the Cradle (no love for movie lawyers)

Atticus Finch? Pah! Below, the movie lawyers who have shaped my understanding of the practice of law and what it does to one's home life:

Robin Williams, "Peter Banning", Hook (1991)
Peter Banning misses his son's baseball game and this contributes directly to his children being abducted in the night. I played little league baseball when I was a kid. I sucked. I was relieved when my family wasn't there to see me, swaying around out in right field where nobody ever hit. (They tell the kids that every position is important and that they need good throwers in the outfield; this is a lie. I couldn't catch or throw, but they had to put me somewhere.) Plenty was traumatic about childhood baseball (and hockey, soccer, basketball and football), but not my father's failing to make it to every game. If anything, I played better without the added pressure. Certainly his absence wouldn't have caused me to repudiate my lineage and take up with a mustachioed amputee.

Emilio Estevez, "Gordon Bombay", The Mighty Ducks (1992)
Gordon deserves mention because he begins the movie speeding in his luxury car whilst under the influence, surely every young lawyer's secret aspiration. Though he has no children of his own, he does his damnedest to screw up a bunch of other people's kids before he sees the error of his ways and commits to coaching wildly unrealistic hockey for at-risk youth with available single moms.

Dan Hedaya, "Mel Horowitz", Clueless (1995)
If Alicia Silverstone's father weren't too busy getting paid $500 to yell at people as the most fearsome litigator in whatever whitebread gated community of California they're supposedly in, he might have been able to stop her from attempting to seduce first an oblivious homosexual boy and then her own step-brother. The girl needs a strong male figure in her life.

Keanu Reeves, "Kevin Lomax", The Devil's Advocate (1997)
Up-and-coming defence attorney Keanu Reeves ("Is this game sexual in nature?!") takes a job at a big-city firm and takes forever to learn what everyone already knows who didn't wander into the movie accidentally: his senior partner is the devil! Get it? He's the actual devil! And advocate is a synonym for lawyer. What other cliche proverbs can they adapt? How about Let's Put Our Thinking Caps On, in theatres everywhere; or Flogging a Dead Horse, on DVD and Blu-Ray. Kevin Lomax's wife Charlize Theron intuits the truth about her husband's boss "John Milton" -- get it?! wait, weak -- and offs herself, only to be brought back from the dead when Neo makes the ultimate sacrifice: declining to impregnate Satan's hot, willing daughter.

Jim Carrey, "Fletcher Reede", Liar Liar (1997)
As with Hook and The Mighty Ducks, it's unclear at the end of the movie what Jim Carrey will do to support his family after he abandons the ugly legal community that led him astray. Something more morally supportable, no doubt. Perhaps he'll invent a device that sits atop the television, reads viewers' minds and beams their desires to a central hub in Gotham City. Perhaps he'll star in a reality show. In any event: after inflicting the most gratuitous PG violence since Home Alone upon himself for the duration of the film, Jim Carrey has the epiphany that lying all the time hurts his relationships. This is a dangerous message for children. [If you liked Liar Liar, you'll love Yes!, in which Jim Carrey returns to the exact same premise after eleven years and with somehow even less dignity.]

Michael Douglas, "Robert Wakefield", Traffic (2000)
O, cruel fate! Michael Douglas is a former judge caught up in the hectic schedule of his new position as Washington drug czar, who fails to defuse the timebomb at home until it's too late: his daughter is addicted to the very smack he's sworn to eradicate -- and what's worse, her virtue has been stolen by anonymous black men! We all must watch this movie again.

Gene Hackman, "Royal Tenenbaum", The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
Like so many of my kind, I love this movie. Royal barely scrapes onto the list, because his legal career is not the cause of his familial neglect; on the contrary, both are incidental effects of his narcissism. And he has long since been disbarred by the time he is redeemed by the love of his family. But the damage of childhood neglect is irreversible: his son Richie tries to kill himself and then confesses his love for his adopted sister. This brings our foiled-suicide-attempt count to at least two, and sets off our third pseudo-incest red flag.

What can we conclude? The children (and wives) of lawyers are vulnerable to juvenile delinquency, drug dependence, sexual precociousness, incest and suicide attempts. For God's sake, get out of the office and start throwing the ball around the backyard with Jimmy! You haven't a moment to lose! There could be a dagger in your door already!

[Let me know whom I have missed.]


Ryan Marr said...

Is this a good example?

Anonymous said...

More John Grisham movies. You should do one on TV lawyers and how they are blatantly unrealistic. Ally McBeal, Miss Match

Will said...

I considered it, but if I had included TV lawyers I would have had to examine the entire David E. Kelley legal universe (Ally McBeal, The Practice, Boston Legal ... I think there was another short-lived one about women), and who knows how many loathsome workaholics with empty home lives I would have turned up.

John Grisham would have had some good ones though: brash up-and-comer Matthew McConaughey and his troubled, long-suffering wife Ashley Judd in A Time to Kill; brash up-and-comer Tom Cruise and his troubled, long-suffering wife Jeanne Tripplehorn; not to mention a wealth of wide-eyed naifs graduating or recently graduated from law school in The Pelican Brief, The Chamber and The Rainmaker.

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