This is not a who-dun-it. It’s a will-they-be-able-to-prove-it. As in the old Columbo television series, we know from the beginning who pulled the trigger. We see Ted Crawford (Anthony Hopkins) shoot his wife in the head because she was having an affair. We see the police come for him. And we see hotshot prosecutor Willy Beachum (Ryan Gosling) get what looks like a slam-dunk case: the police have the gun and a confession.
Then Ted and Willy face off against each other. Ted likes to create intricate, meticulously designed machines with all kinds of rolling balls and shifting gears. His fondness for complicated puzzles is an indication that it isn’t going to be a slam-dunk case after all. At least not for the prosecution.
This is one of those films that really boils down to what goes on between the two men. There’s a distracting and predictable backstory about whether Willy will sell out and go to work for the big corporate law firm with the pretty senior associate yadda yadda. But all that matters is the cat and mouse game between Ted and Willy, especially because it is not clear who is the cat and who is the mouse. And because Ted and Willy are played by actors who know how to work it. Gosling’s Oakie accent gets a bit wearing, and even Hopkins’ accent seems to waver at times, but the script gives them some juicy twists and relish-worthy lines and when the two of them get going, you can feel the air between them crackle.
Parents should know that this film has brief but intense violence with a man shooting his wife at point-blank range and an off-camera suicide. The issue of “pulling the plug” on someone with no brain activity is raised. Characters use some strong and ugly language. There are sexual references, including adultery and a non-explicit sexual situation.
Families who see this movie should talk about what was important to Willie and how his priorities — or his understanding of his priorities — changed. What will he do next?
Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy the classic Witness For the Prosecution and more contemporary courtroom thrillers like Primal Fear and Presumed Innocent. They might also appreciate the television series Columbo.