I don’t have a whole lot to say about Criminal Law. It’s one of the more mainstream feeling movies I’ve watched since I started writing about movies. I gave it a fair chance and stuck with it all the way, but to me it never rises above a pedestrian level.
It’s another twist on the tired old lawyer-bashing theme that defense attorneys are unprincipled scumbags for defending people they know are guilty, especially if it’s really bad people.
Not that there aren’t interesting and important moral questions along these lines about the legal system and about the decisions that individual actors within it make, and not that it’s impossible for a movie to address these matters productively (in very different ways, And Justice For All and Cape Fear tackled them with at least some success), but this one just never did much for me.
A cocky young attorney gets a probable serial killer off in a sensational trial (which includes elements far more what one would expect to see in Movie Land than in real life). Though grateful on the surface, the serial killer disrespects the weakness of society and especially his attorney in getting him off, so he decides to “punish” the attorney by involving him in his subsequent murders to put him on the spot and see how he’ll react under pressure (which is more to be expected in Movie Land than real life). Along the way, the lawyer and the angry friend of one of the victims become boyfriend and girlfriend (which is really, really more a Movie Land thing than a real life possibility—but hey, I guess they couldn’t figure out any other way to work a love interest into the film). The story culminates in a hostage taking and a shootout and other highly dramatic goings on in a courtroom (which is typical of Movie Land and decidedly not of real life).
Along the way there’s an attempt to give the film some psychological depth by suggesting a motivational connection between abortion and the murders in the twisted mind of the serial killer, but it’s too simplistic to amount to anything all that compelling.
Really for a mainstream movie where you suspend disbelief and just follow the action and let yourself enjoy the mystery and suspense elements, I’d probably rank Criminal Law around the middle of movies I’ve seen. Certainly I’ve sat through much, much worse. But I’ve gotten into the habit of watching mostly foreign and independent films that tend to go deeper and not just use the usual conventions to push the buttons of the lowest common denominator, and I typically get more out of those (though the flipside is I typically experience them as more taxing to watch).