There's just something about Sean Connery. He's a neat guy, and he's grown neater over the past forty years. He's bald and doesn't care. His hair is gray, except that his eyebrows are black. His face is lined but handsome. He moves with force and grace. He's the kind of older guy that every man ought to hope he grows into. And he doesn't take himself or his talent too seriously either, a saving feature. And he has a sense of humor. He tells the story of location shooting during "The Man Who Would be King." Every day the cast and crew drove many miles from town up into the Atlas mountains. And every morning Connery's car passed an old man walking in the same direction with a huge load of firewood on his back. And every afternoon they would pass the same old man walking back home without the load. One morning Connery finally asked his driver to stop and offer the old guy a ride up into the mountains. The old guy thought for a while and refused the ride. Why? Because if he accepted the ride he would arrive back home too early and wouldn't know what to do with the extra time. That's the Morrocan version of the Protestant Ethic.
He's good in this movie too, as a Harvard law professor who comes to a dumpy small Florida town at the request of a death-row inmate. The inmate is handsome, black, and educated. He tells a horrifying story of having been made to confess to the murder of an eleven-year-old white girl. Now he's doomed. You've seen it before, I'm sure. Another redneck jury railroads an innocent minority-group member into the slams on what Lawrence Fishburn, the detective on the case, describes as pretty flimsy evidence, just barely good enough to convict. White guy then saves black guy from Old Sparky and the inmate embraces the loving family that has been waiting for his exoneration.
Not this time, though. The clean-cut black convict is guilty of the crime. He cuts a deal with another depraves maniac on death row, Ed Harris, than whom no one can act more depraved. Bobby Earl, the educated black murderer, will be released when Harris confesses to the murder of the eleven-year-old girl. In return, Bobby Earl will slaughter the parents that Harris loathes and will, as a kind of lagniappe, have a chance to destroy Connery's family too for a previous misencounter.
The finale loses it. It's been an engaging plot so far, although there is no believable exploration in character or anything. What I mean is that it is nothing more than a typical legal/moral drama with a surprising narrative, not a surprising execution. But the end is a typical shootout in an isolated gator-shack in the Everglades. People are stabbed, shot, kicked, pounded to a pulp, threatened with knives, and eaten by alligators. (Fat chance.) And all of this is preceded by a standard-typical car chase through the city streets and over half-open draw bridges. The climax degrades what would otherwise have been an effective legal thriller.
It is kind of interesting, though, to see the way the plot twists are carried out. And the cast is for the most part quite good, except that Bobby Earl is a bit bland. That blandness is okay when he's supposed to be innocent but it doesn't fit his true maniacal serial-killer child-molesting persona. The shooting is atmospheric, inviting and ominous at the same time. The score is generic. But except for the ending it's kind of enjoyable.
Of course, if you think about the movie, there's another whole perspective on it. It's a polemic against white Northern liberals who oppose capital punishment and are smitten with white guilt. It supports beating hell out of suspects and endorses a justice system based less on evidence than on intuition. And there is no racism at all in the South. Fishburn's daughter is like a sister to the little white victim; they are best friends and sleep over each others' houses. Why don't those Harvard egg heads just leave us alone here in Gatorville. We were all right until they started interfering.