Tuesday, May 27, 2008

It’s Déjà vu . . . all over again.

from James Grippando

It’s a hotly contested presidential election. In fact, the hottest ever. And it’s the first presidential election in which neither candidate is a white male. A white woman is facing off against a black man, and the race is neck and neck.

You’re thinking Hillary v. Obama, I’m sure. But you’re wrong.

We’re talking about Allison Leahy, former U.S. Attorney General, versus Lincoln Howe, African American war hero. It’s the 2000 election, and it’s the premise of my 1998 novel, The Abduction. Two weeks before the election, Lincoln Howe’s granddaughter is kidnapped. Each side claims the other is exploiting the tragedy and manipulating the investigation for political advantage. But as I explained to USA Today recently, that’s not the really interesting part.

What I love so much about The Abduction, my third novel, is the way some reviewers who absolutely loved the book couldn’t buy into the premise. “Readers will have to truly suspend disbelief to accept Grippando’s premise that this country is ready for a presidential election between a white woman and an African American man,” one reviewer wrote. Well, all I can say is what a difference 10 years makes!

I’m not saying that The Abduction will go down in history as one of the all-time great lawyer novels. But it’s fun to be on the front end of something as historical as this presidential race is.

And speaking of all-time great lawyer novels—hey, I’m filling in for Paul Levine, so this is an entirely appropriate topic—I was asked to give my two cents on this subject recently. People love lists, and it seems that I’m always being asked to list my favorite law-related novels or movies. This time it was movies, a subject I admittedly know even less about than novels, but thay doesn't stop me from chiming in. Here’s what I came up with. I know you’ll disagree, but that’s what makes lists fun. Here you go...

Lawyer Film that Inspired me Most:

A Man for All Seasons. It's the story of Sir Thomas Moore, who was tried for treason and beheaded after he refused on principle to sign an oath approving the marriage of King Henry VIII to Ann Boleyn. I saw the movie and read the play in high school, and it stuck with me throughout my career as a lawyer, especially early-on, when I was young and naïve and appalled to discover how many witnesses lied under oath. People complain that lawyers are always trying to trip them up with their clever questions, but in my experience witnesses too often had to be tricked into telling the truth. In my most cynical moments as a trial lawyer, I'd go back to Sir Thomas Moore and the sanctity of an oath. And now, as a writer, I never forget how important it is to be honest with my readers.

Low point for a Lawyer in Film.

Jurassic Park. Who is the first guy to be lunch for Steven Spielberg's dinosaurs? The lawyer, of course. And he gets it while hiding like a coward in an outhouse and sitting on the toilet. Audiences across the world cheered when it happened. Ouch.

High Point for a Lawyer In Film.

Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch. 'Nuff said.

The Moment that Spoke to Me

Having been one of those young and idealistic lawyers who somehow found himself keeping track of his life in six-minute billing intervals, I couldn't have said it better than Tom Hanks did on the witness stand in Philadelphia: "What do I love the most about the law? It's that every now and again - not often, but occasionally - you get to be a part of justice being done. That really is quite a thrill when that happens."

I know that comes across as totally sappy as a printed word in an Internet blog, but Tom Hanks made it so believable.

The Book was so much better than the Movie

Bonfire of the Vanities. At one point in the trial, the screenplay (NOT the book) has Sherman McCoy's lover (Melanie Griffith) say under oath, "I'm a sucker for a soft. . ."

I've never heard the end of the sentence. That was the point at which I pulled out a Glock and shot the television.

The Movie was so much better than the Book

Maybe I'm biased, but when you find one of these, be sure to let me know.

Most unlikely film in my top ten.

Chicago. My eleven-year-old daughter is a dancer, and thanks to a tap-dancing Richard Gere, she now thinks lawyers are cool. Okay, so someday she’ll figure it out. But a kid can dream, can’t she?

Best Lawyer Film Ever

My Cousin Vinny. Stay with me on this. I can name four or five courtroom dramas that, depending on the day of the week, would be my "all-time favorite" lawyer movie. You would probably name the same ones. But I can name just one comedy that is always in my top five. Perhaps more than any other film in any category, My Cousin Vinny sets the standard in the
subgenre it created. It's absolutely great legal comedy-"two yoots, Your Honor"-and the courtroom scenes are better than most dramas. Joe Pesci and Marisa Tomei are unforgettable, and I know of no more entertaining trial judge in film than Fred Gwynn (Herman Munster) in his farewell performance.

There you have it. Paul will be back next week to set me straight.

James Grippando


  1. Absence of Malice, Michael Clayton, The Firm, A Civil Action, Changing Lanes.............These may not be the all time best "legal/lawyer" movies, but they do share one thing in common: a great actor/director, Sydney Pollack. We lost him to cancer yesterday....... a tremendous loss.

    Good to see you chiming in today,James. This site misses your weekly contributions. But make no mistake, the other Jim, Born does a tremendous job in your absence.

    Speaking of absence, like a child searching for Waldon, we are all left to ask, where's Paulie?

  2. make that "Waldo"...not Waldon.


  3. Paulie is on the road this week, researching the novel he's working on, I'm sure.

    I love your list, James. I also admire your recall. I can't remember the last lawyer film I saw. Must have been Michael Clayton, which I liked.

    Great to have you back!

  4. Sir Thomas More, James?

    Heck, once upon a time, Xanadu spoke to me.

    Not much about lawyers, but decidedly about being spoken to.

  5. I'm not much for lawyer movies, but I did happen across My Cousin Vinny, which was better than expected. Of course, you've missed Big Daddy, which started off with the horror fascination of a train wreck, but ended quite nicely. Oh, and we can't forget Legally Blonde or it's sequel, can we?

  6. Oh, give me Inherit the Wind any day! I love the play, I love the movie, I love the premise. But then, if I'm gonna be totally sappy, I love Miracle on 34th Street too.

  7. A big thanks to Jim for pinch hitting today.

    1. Patty, I'm not on the road, researching. I'm in Miami, working on my Spanish and testing my deodorant.

    2. "My Cousin Vinny" makes me howl every time. Opening statements should be concise, right? Here's the entirety of Joe Pesci's (Vinny Gambini's) opening: "Everything that guy just said is bullshit. Thank you."

    3. "A Man for All Seasons" I always thought that was the Jim Thorpe story.

  8. The Verdict, with Paul Newman and the oh-so-noirish Charlotte Rampling against the evil Catholic Church and James Mason.......