The movie based on John Grishams A Time to Kill is a Hollywoodized, modern-day version of To Kill a Mockingbird. Both movies employ many of the same themes and plot elements; but the former movie is one-dimensional and predictable while the latter is innovative and purposeful. The movie version of Harper Lees novel To Kill a Mockingbird is considered a classic film, whereas John Grishams adapted novel is merely another example of the money making efforts of Hollywood.
Some of the movies more prominent themes are the same. Both focus on the family, particularly the role of the father. In To Kill a Mockingbird, Attacus, who is based on the father of author Harper Lee, is an upstanding parent. Not only is he an excellent role model for his children, but he takes time to talk to his children. He respects them as growing individuals, allowing them to call him Attacus, and explains important issues rather than discounting them. Jake cherishes his daughter more than ever when he compares her hypothetically to his clients victimized daughter Tonya. The power of the family institution is reiterated when Carl takes revenge upon the offenders who raped Tonya. These ties drive an otherwise socially conforming man into violating the sanctity of human life in cold blood without regret.
Another motivation that inspires his action is the personal degradation he must have experienced as a black man in a racist community that includes backwoods deviants, who look down upon the blacks in the community. Hate crimes appear in both movies, including hate-fueled riots, attempted lynchings, and the reappearance of the Ku Klux Klan. Other manifestations of racism were realized as well, such as injustice in the court system and the school system, where, in both movies, the protagonists children are continually taunted for being the progeny of a nigger lover.
The classic figure of the hero is at the forefront of the plot in each movie. Both lawyers put their lives on the line for the liberty of a client without expecting compensation. Attacus does so because he believes in justice and knows its the right thing to do, whereas Jake simply empathizes with his client, especially by projecting his daughter into Tonyas experience. Either way, these men sacrifice themselves for the sake of others, a defining characteristic of heroes. Attacus especially is elevated in the mind of the narrator to a state of untouchable selflessness and courage. A few other characters with very heroic traits emerge. Boo Radley saves the children by fighting their attacker to the death at great personal risk even though these same children had feared him. He is a very mysterious character until this incident, which unexpectedly defines him as a hero. In one of the most striking scenes in A Time to Kill, a soldier jumps in the path of a bullet to protect Jake. When Jake learns this total stranger is permanently paralyzed, he is dumbfounded.
The basic plots of the two movies are identical: a white man commits rape but a black man ends up being prosecuted in a racially charged trial. The focus is on the defense lawyers struggle, and the movies climax during the closing statement. The essential difference of plot is a juxtaposition: in To Kill a Mockingbird, an innocent man is convicted, while in the other, a guilty man walks. This reflects that more was at stake than simply one mans life in both cases. The formers result is much more powerful. This unrevenged injustice has potential to hold audiences in indignant shock and open their eyes to the harsh reality of racism. This is the first of several discrepancies I will point out that favor To Kill a Mockingbird as the better film.
These juxtaposed outcomes of the trials can be attributed to two factors unrelated to the plot. First, it reflects our nations growing sensitivity toward stamping out racism. A black man prosecuted for a crime against a white person had terrible odds in the in the first half of the twentieth century. I understand Lees novel was accurately portrayed, but A Time to Kill, the movie, strays from John Grishams original at least with respect to the conclusion. The different endings also contrast the objectives of Harper Lee versus those of modern movie makers. Lee wrote To Kill a Mockingbird in the thick of the Civil Rights Movement. This book was radically progressive for its day and successfully promoted social awareness and challenged racism with its honest depiction of goings-on in the South. Modern movie makers, on the other hand, are committed to creating movies that the mass public will pay to see, and the public expects movies to be entertainment, not propaganda. Lee wanted his trial outcome to be tragically compelling, while the makers of A Time to Kill wanted their audience to feel satisfied. Lee ties in another whole story analogous to the main story, but more light-hearted. By masterfully ending his novelry with the touching victorious resolution of this sub-plot, he leaves the reader/viewer hopeful without being pacified to the racism message.
Along with the traditional happy ending, A Time to Kill has several other characteristics typical to modern cinema with a mass public target audience. Most painful to me is Hollywoods preoccupation with sexy characters and romantic relations, no matter how irrelevant. No modern movie can be truly complete without incorporating both of these. This is first evidenced by Jakes wife, played by Ashley Judd. In her first scene, she is displayed in a sexy position scrubbing the floor (naturally), completely drenched in sweat except for her perfect face.
Another equally annoying shortcoming of the movie industry is the one-dimensional character. In this particular movie, every character, without exception, falls neatly into either the good guy category or the bad guy category. These character types are redundant and expected, allowing the viewer to understand them instantly, skipping over that overrated process of thought. The bottom line is that modern viewing audiences want a temporary retreat from reality, which would be interrupted by active analysis. Again, To Kill a Mockingbird was not intended to cater to the blind desires of Western pop culture, so characters can be more realistically complex. Mayella and Mr. Cunningham, for instance, are conflicted with issues involving more relative aspects of good and evil, such as conforming to peoples expectations and also self-preservation. Besides being simply more realistic and convincing, multi-dimensional characters like these are much more intriguing.
Most modern movies fail to explore issues that are controversial or simply thought-provoking. Racism was a very serious problem in the South when To Kill a Mockingbird was written. Many people tried to ignore or forget about this problem rather than face it, but the book boldly confronts it and provokes the viewer to do the same. Since A Time to Kill came out after society as a whole stopped tolerating racism for the most part, this issue is almost a clich, certainly no longer eye-opening. The closest this movie comes to an interesting thought is when Carl tells Jake in prison that they cannot be friends because Jake looks at him and sees a black man, rather than just a man. This is an interesting aspect of racism which asserts that as long as whites view blacks as the other, they can never connect on the same level. Unfortunately, this idea is left completely undeveloped. Jake does bring it up at the end, but only to tell Carl that he was totally wrong about him.
A Time to Kill does have a few intense and touching scenes, but in the end it is only another money-making cheap entertainment movie, whereas To Kill a Mockingbird is an immortal classic.