Unjustly overlooked, Just Cause is an entertaining thriller featuring an excellent cast, a twisting story, and a lot of hot topics. I’m talking about racism, the death penalty, and police corruption among others. We will be following Paul Armstrong, a former lawyer who’s now an advocate against the death penalty. After one of his debates, he’s approached by a grandma of a death row convict who claims he’s innocent. Touched by his case and the overwhelming evidence, Armstrong decides to take on the case. A case that will lead him to rural Florida and put him in mortal danger.
Despite the seriousness of the themes it’s exploring, Just Cause has this vibrant and almost too entertaining atmosphere. We even have a comical relief character, a flirtatious lady who works for the local newspaper. In the lead role, we have none other than the legend that is Sean Connery. He actually turned down the role of King Edward I in Braveheart to make this movie. It was kind of refreshing to watch this elderly professor doing detective work instead of some young guy. Speaking of youth, we have 11-year-old Scarlett Johansson playing one of the key characters, Armstrong’s daughter Katie.
Laurence Fishburne, Blair Underwood, and Ed Harris were also great. Just Cause is a movie that effectively captures your attention with its intense opening act. As time goes on, the story gets crazier and crazier until it culminates in one hell of a finale. Although I think the word bizarre is much more fitting to the insane rumble in the swamp we’re going to get at the end. I completely forgot about it. What stuck out in my memory was the scene where the serial killer Blair Sullivan, played masterfully by Ed Harris, grabs the bars of his cell nude and starts teasing Bobby Earl. There’s something so unsettling about that scene.
The pacing is so fast that we gloss over some rather interesting elements. Additionally, a few of the developments feel contrived but by that time you’re already invested in the story. You want to see how things will turn out for our death row convict and will Sean Connery be able to save him. A classic detective story infused with a lot of flare and standard-issue genre tropes. Visually, Just Cause looks excellent, even after all this time. The colors are deep further emphasizing the raw beauty of Floridian nature and giving it that big movie vibe. I especially liked the swamp expeditions.
Now, there’s a reason why I remembered this movie after seeing it more than twenty years earlier. And that reason will be quite apparent to you too, if you decide to check it out. Sure, it can be a bit predictable and cheesy at times but it’s captivating nonetheless. And do not confuse it with the 1988 thriller based on true events, Mississippi Burning. Starring Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe, it’s much more intense and ominous. A Time to Kill  also comes to mind as the story is practically the same.
While we’re talking about other movies, I also must mention The Silence of the Lambs and Cape Fear. Mostly because they were obvious influences. Just Cause is actually based on John Katzenbach’s novel of the same name. This is why its structure and character development are so good. Not just a courtroom drama but also a detective story exploring some pretty dark themes, I can’t think of a reason why this movie is so underrated. Sean Connery’s magnetic screen presence should warrant a viewing alone.
Director: Arne Glimcher
Writers: John Katzenbach, Jeb Stuart, Peter Stone
Cast: Sean Connery, Laurence Fishburne, Kate Capshaw, Blair Underwood, Ed Harris, Ned Beatty
Fun Facts: At one point during the preproduction, Will Smith was the frontrunner for the role of Bobby Earl which ultimately went to Blair Underwood.