DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEW of Deliberate Intent, Panic, The Basketball Diaries, O, Criminal Justice, Presumed Innocent , Identity Theft: The Michelle Brown Story (2004) , The Net (1995), Hackers (1995), Return to Sender (2004)
Title: Deliberate Intent
Nationality and Language:
Running time: about 100 Minutes
Distributor and Production Company: 20th Century Fox and FX Cable
Director; Writer: Wolk, Andy, based on book by Rod Smolla
Cast: Timothy Hutton, Clark Johnson, Penny Johnson, James MacDaniel
Relevance to doaskdotell site:
Review: Movie Review of Deliberate Intent
20th Century Fox, first shown on FX Cable
Timothy Hutton, Clark Johnson, Penny Johnson, James MacDaniel
Directed by Andy Wolk
Based on the book Deliberate Intent by Rodney A. Smolla (Rod Smolla), Crown, 2000, ISBN 0609604139
I can remember in grade school, when a teacher punished a student for “doing it deliberately,” or “on purpose.” And in the notorious litigation against Paladin Press (the company with a chess Knight as a trademark symbol) concerning the “assassination manual” Hit Man, by fictitious author Rex Farrel, the contention that Paladin apparently or allegedly deliberately intended some readers to follow the “instructions” in the book, became the basis for the 4th Circuit’s allowing the case to go to trial in 1997, and for Paladin’ settling out of court (on the request of its liability insurance company) and taking the book out of circulation. The case was Rice v Paladin Enterprises.
In author Smolla’s words, regarding the First Amendment defense:
“A publisher who provides detailed information on techniques of violent crime with the deliberate intent that some readers will use the information to murder and maim will not find refuge in the First Amendment."
Now, I do not have a copy of Hit Man and can apparently no longer obtain it. I understand one critical point from the film: that the publisher apparently turned the book into a “Dummies” “how to” manual by its own design. One point that is very striking to me is that the author insisted that Paladin protect her identity and assume all the liability for publication; most trade and even cooperative publishing contracts require the author to sign an indemnification clause protecting the publisher. So this contract provision was extremely unusual for the industry. The author supposedly assembled the materials for the Hit Man book from detective stories and mundane sources.
However, one can still speculate that the book, based on its contents even taken at face value, could be read toungue-in-cheek, as “satire.” I can even imagine that a book like this could be desired by a consumer who wants to protect himself/herself from a possible “hit man.” So, as a matter of law, it should be protected by the First Amendment as legitimate expression, unless the publisher actually intended that it be used to commit a crime. According to the film’s end credits, this is the first case where a publisher accepted liability for a crime committed by a reader of a book. The legal precedent, as explained in the film, is Bandenburg v. Ohio, and involves the incitement of “imminent lawless action.” Nevertheless, many public policy makers (liberal and conservative alike) consider “copycat” violence, especially by minors or the mentally ill, as serious issue for which authors and media should take responsibility. One of Stephen King’s novels may have inspired a crime, and the novels of Tom Clancy and John Grisham are mentioned in the trial debates. But the (new) legal standard preventing this slippery slope (reminding me of my own litigation against the Child Online Protection Act) is apparently “deliberate intent.” Of course, an out of court settlement does not present a precedent; the case never was tried.
The film-making itself is masterful. The flashbacks, many apparently filmed on
Timothy Hutton gives an earnest performance as the pro First Amendment lawyer (Rod Smolla, who wrote the Deliberate Intent book mentioned above) whose stomach is turned by what he comes to see as a misuse of free speech for destructive purposes. The best line is “The book is lethal … When you pick it up it comes alive.”
20th Century Fox should provide a general theater release of this important film. If it does, it will surely be on the Oscar list, even for Best Picture. It seems that more and more, “issue” films are being relegated to cable and network television; the studios do not seem to have confidence that a film with this kind of intellectual depth can attract a large box office. I think that the studios can build an audience for this kind of film, including a theater audience. Perhaps I can help them do this.
A reader made the following comment to me.
“Not a bad flick, definitely educational -- although I thought the make-up was awful. The guy who argues opposite Smolla looks like a ghoul, as does Judge Luttig (who actually looks like a cross between Andy Rooney and Bill Maher). “
Another reader informs me that the book text is available at this address (http)
If you key this into the browser with the http it does seem to work
The online publisher, overthrow.com makes this comment:
“The book was initially published in 1983. 13,000 copies of the book are now in existence. There has only ever been one case where the book was associated with a crime, in that case the criminal had recently finished a lengthy prison sentence and had a history of prior violent crime. It is our opinion this book has never incited a murder, that the settlement of the Paladin Press case was wrong and forced by the insurance company, and that this book, and no book, should be banned. We invite the public to judge for themselves.”
Again, I personally buy the free speech idea. Normally speech can be prosecuted or incur liability when it causes the imminent threat of lawless action.
Take note also of the film Panic (2000, Summit Entertainment), starring William H. Macey as a “hit man” seeking therapy for his “guilt” over this lifetime career with his creepy father played by Donald Sutherland. The plot is a bit predictable but the hit scenes are positively chilling. But this film is no recipe for “doing it.” We could go back to 1995 for the Gramercy/USA film Coldblooded, with Jason Priestley as a young bookkeeper who gets a “real career” as a hit man.
The Basketball Diaries,
from USA Films/Gramercy/Island in 1995 (director, Scott Kalvert) puts a then
nineteen-year-old Leonardo Di Caprio in a brilliantly acted role of a young
man, alienated by the hypocrisy of his Catholic school surroundings, going
down into despair, drugs, and street life, at one point prostituting himself
in a the men’s room in a subway station. The scene where he tries to get his
mother to take him back as the “prodigal son” is anguishing. Di Caprio took
this role, ironically, after River Phoenix, intended for it, died of a drug
overdose. The movie is based on the autobiographical book from the 1960s by
Jim Carroll, and presents the paradox of a boy living a gang street life
showing his gifts for writing and words. The movie is famous for the scene in
which the protagonist shoots up a classroom with a huge automatic weapon, but
in the context of the movie, it occurs in a dream. Claims that this scene
The film also stars Marky Mark Wahlberg, James Modio,
Ernie Hudson, Marilyn Sokol, Loarraine Braco, Bruno
Kirby. There is an episode early in
the film where a friend of Carrol’s dies of leukemia, and wastes away to a
skeleton, an event that unsettles Carroll as he proceeds with his distanced
autobiographical narration. Yet, “boys will be boys,” as in a scene where
they, shirtless and generally (except for one) “hairless,” jump into the
(1991; 2001, Lions Gate, R, 96 min, dir. Tim Blake Nelson, with Mekhi Philer
and Josh Hartnett, Julia Stiles) is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Othello in
the private boarding school world (
Criminal Justice (1990, Miramax/HBO Films, dir. Andy Wolk, with Forest Whitaker, Jennifer Grey, Rosie Perez, Anthony LaPaglia, 92 min, suggest PG-13) provides a didactic lesson in the criminal justice system and how it handles minority defendants, as with the plea bargain process. Does the evidence of a lineup or other circumstantial evidence along with police assertiveness convince some innocent defendants to bargain for a lower sentence? Do trial lawyers play Faust and give up all intellectual honesty in order to argue for their clients, regardless of what they personally believe to be the truth (a luxury reserved for unpaid writers like me, perhaps.) Is plea bargaining fair to the victims? The questions for discussion only go on from there. When is a feature film better teaching material than entertainment? Here is the purchase information: http://store.hbo.com/product/VMHHV0036-VHS/s.AWU0oqFT
An important aspect of the criminal justice process is that a falsely accused person (or even “person of interest”) may have his reputation permanently tainted, especially in these days of the Internet and search engines.
A paradox of the criminal justice system is provided by
Scott Turow’s novel and film adaptation Presumed Innocent (1990, Warner Brothers, dir.
Alan Paluka) where a prosecutor is apparently framed for the murder of his
putative mistress—but this is only the beginning of plot twists involving
corruption in the D.A.’s office, the circuit courts, and DA Rusty Sabich’s (Harrison Ford)’s own family. The film is a
detailed courtroom drama, and bears careful attention to all the procedures.
Paul Winfield performs winsomely as the powerful judge Larren Lyttle, with
the Achilles heel. The charging of Rusty happens about 40% into the film,
about the right beat for a screenplay. The ending let’s the guilty go free to
protect the system—yet the final plot twist could come out of daytime soap
In a monologue at the end, in front of an empty courtroom, Sabich mentions that it is very difficult to try two people for the same crime; and then he says: “I am a prosecutor. I have spent my life in the assignment of blame.”
A modern, sophisticated dramatic treatment of the perils of the criminal justice system is the CBS film (May 23, 24 2004) Reversible Errors, based on Scott Turow’s novel, with William H. Macey and Tom Selleck (“Magnum P.I.” and the Detroit Tigers!), also Felicity Huffman and Shermar Moore. Would a prisoner with terminal cancer “admit” that he had framed someone on death row? Why?
Identity Theft: The Michelle Brown Story (Lions
Gate/Lifetime/Granda, 2004, dir. Robert Dornhelm) presents the true story of
Denver elementary school teacher Michelle Brown (Kimberly Williams) who, when
she goes to make a mortgage application with her husband (Jason London),
finds all of her data stolen by loan office employee Connie (Annabelle
Sciorra), who, knowing she will get caught eventually (she is also running
drugs), sees it as an exercise in left-wing “social justice” to confiscate
the wealth of the “white decadent upper middle class” that she can never
aspire to have. She can never afford
one of the homes whose paperwork she processes. She goes out and buys an SUV, an imitation
of Michelle’s, and rents a similar house. This, as well as jewelry and botox
treatments, all winds up on Michelle’s credit report. She easily fools the
DMV to get a fake driver’s license (a big issue in
Artisan Entertainment provides a 91-minute
Wellspring Media, Fireworks Pictures and Moxie present Liz
Garbus’s documentary Girlhood (82 min,
sugg. PG-13, 2003) which traces two teenage girls Shanae and Megan through
the juvenile justice system in
The Familiar Stranger (Lions Gate/Lifetime, dir. Alan Metzger, Margaret Colin and Jay O. Sanders, 96 min, 2001), presents a father who, after indictment for embezzlement, feigns suicide and deserts his family, taking on a fake identity as a flim-flam man. He winds up facing his family and pleading nolo contendre for non-support, and winding up in the slammer after the deserted super-mom pays private detective. (Yup, she finds him by Google-hacking; search engines keep people in the public eye.) He never gets it. Still, it is criminal justice, and it is the people as well as the immediate family (especially the boys) who are harmed,
Cinemax and Wellspring Media present the documentary Fashion Victim: The Killing of Gianni Versace (2002, dir. James Kent), an account of the door-front murder of the fashion designer by “stalker” Andrew Cunanan, who had prepared his crime with a step-by-step serial killing spree across the country, quite different in character from that of Aileen in “Monster.” It does seem that Cunanan’s psychopathology was an awry case of vicarious upward affiliation, a narcissism gone awry. He couldn’t take losing it. This murder happened right after I published my first book, in 1997.
The Net (1995,
United Artists, dir. Iain Softley, 107 min, PG-13)
takes stereotyped computer hacking scenarios and makes a whizbang
special effects ride of it. At 11, Dade Murphy is convicted of writing a
computer virus (all the way back in 1988) and kept off computers until he is
18. As a college freshman, Dade “Zero Cool” (spectacular British actor Jonny Lee Miller at 23) and friends is conscripted by the
government to track down real hackers. The problem is that the script is more
interested in just entertaining than in exploring any real problems. The
special effects are way out of kilter with reality, and the web was just
coming into common use when this movie was made. To me, what’s interesting, is that there are so many bizarre problems
and scenarios with Internet activity that
Some sidebars here. The new virus is called “the Da Vinci” virus (there was a Michealangelo virus in 1992). There is a great line, “we’re hackers. For us, there is no such thing as family and friends.” You need them when the economy tanks and you do grunt work.
Return to Sender
(aka “Convicted”, 2004, Lions Gate/DEJ/Audley, dir. Bille August, 101
min, R). The original title refers to that rude graphic that appears on an
unwanted letter (like a blocked email these days), and here a woman on death
row Charlotte Cory (Connie Nielsen) in
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