'Just Cause' starts out reasonably enough. A young Florida black man (Blair Underwood) is taken into custody by the police where he is summarily tortured until he confesses to raping and killing a young girl. Immediately questions of racial bias are raised. The cops are railroading this poor young man, and after confessing, he's been put on death row.
Cut to Mr. Paul Armstrong (Sean Connery), a Harvard Law professor. Armstrong is against any sort of death penalty as we see from him giving the cons of the punishment during a debate. After the debate, Armstrong is approached by a frail old lady who claims that her son has been put on death row for something he didn't do. She says that her son has researched his law career and requests that he investigate the case. Initially Armstrong doesn't want to take the case, but he decides to so there can be a movie.
The beginning of the movie is tense and feels like it's building to a psychological mind trip. Serial killers, racial tensions, crooked cops, all the ingredients are here for a competent thriller. So why is it that a movie with such promise in the first 20 to 30 minutes suddenly derails in the blink of an eye? One minute we're watching a decently constructed detective thriller and the next we've descended into a loony mystery that thinks it's much smarter than it really is.
Armstrong soon meets with the accused, Bobby Earl (Underwood) who regales him with a tale of police brutality, how being wrongfully accused has ruined his life, and who he thinks really killed that girl. It's about then when the movie takes a nosedive and never corrects itself.
Armstrong soon starts finding clues and begins to unravel the truth. Or is it the truth? As the movie unravels, so does its narrative. It becomes confusing, lacks focus, and is far too hell-bent on surprising its audience with unseen plot twists than providing anything resembling a believable story.
At the beginning it was a war of minds. We have a smarter-than-he-lets-on man who has been accused of murder in Bobby Earl; we have a Harvard Law professor in Armstrong; we have an outsider-hating suspect-torturing sheriff in Tanny Brown (Laurence Fishburne); and finally a nutty hardened killer named Blair Sullivan (Ed Harris) who just happens to be in the same prison as Bobby Earl. If the movie stuck to a battle of brains between these four characters, watching them all try to outsmart each other, it could have been a decent thriller. Sadly that doesn't happen.
Halfway through the movie the plot becomes so jumbled it's hard to tell what's what. The end devolves into a generic chase as the bad guy leads the good guys into a swamp as he takes a few hostages. All the mind games have been thrown out the window now. Characters enter the realm of chase or be chased. That's all they're good for. The bad guy heads off to the most obvious place possible, and the good guys are right behind him saying things like, "There's only one place he'd go." Of course there is, because if he used his brain he would have gone somewhere else, however, if he did that then the movie would end with the good guys shrugging their shoulders saying, "Man, I really thought he'd be here."
'Just Cause' in another in a long line of Hollywood thrillers that simply doesn't know how to finish what they started so the generic chase scene is inserted in hoping that by that time we don't care what's happening.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Just Cause' is another of Warner Bros.' wave of catalogue titles they've released this July. It comes in a standard eco-friendly Blu-ray keepcase and the movie has been pressed onto a 25GB Blu-ray Disc.
The video presentation for this mid-90s release actually looks quite good. Warner has done a great job giving the movie a very filmic look, but has also done so by pumping it up to 1080p resolution and showcasing many of the fine details in faces, textures, clothing, and plant life.
I was impressed with the facial detail in this movie. From the individual bristles in Connery's silver goatee to the beads of sweat that form on Fishburne's head as he tortures his suspect, it's all very visible and doesn't appear to be given any egregious sharpening to make it look better.
Dark scenes, of which the whole last 10 minutes of the movie is, feature deep blacks which provide stark shadows but those shadows rarely crush the picture's details. In the moonlight of the swamp we're able to see gators slip beneath the black water. We can even see the moonlight glinting off the small ripples of the still ponds and watering holes. The silhouettes of our characters as they traipse the Everglades in the middle of the night are perfectly visible. Shadows accentuate details here. We are able to see and follow the characters instead of losing them in the darkness. The movie pretty much stinks, but at least it looks good.
As this is a standard thriller the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is a pretty standard track. There are a few scenes where guns are fired or people are yelling where the track has to turn up the volume, but otherwise it's a pretty standard affair.
The movie's soundtrack uses up most of the LFE that's provided. Rear channels are lightly used, usually reserved for the swamp scenes as crickets chirp, wind rustles palm leaves, and gators growl. Dialogue is front and center. There are a few annoyingly loud startle scenes where something jumps out followed by screeching violin strings on the soundtrack which are far too loud for their own good. This audio presentation is really nothing special.
There are no special features on the disc.
'Just Cause' caught my attention for around 30 minutes and then summarily lost it and never gained it back. Its story derails, crashes, and burns. Only this wreckage is weird because it isn't even fun to look at. It's the world's most uninteresting train wreck. The video is good, the audio average, altogether it's a movie that's not really worth your time.