Ryan and I would like to welcome you to the first review for our Argumentative August Blogathon.
This first film review, Jagged Edge (1985) is being reviewed by David of That Moment In…
Let’s see what David thought of this movie….
Directed by Richard Marquand
Written by Joe Eszterhas
- Glenn Close
- Jeff Bridges
- Peter Coyote
- Robert Loggia
Courtroom dramas tend to fall into one of two categories, with either a falsely accused person fighting for justice or a righteous lawyer winning the day. Richard Marquand’s Jagged Edge, takes both of these tropes and spins them so often, by the time it’s over, we’re dizzy with suspense. It’s premise is so twisted and purposefully convoluted, we are like spectators at a professional tennis match, thinking the answer is in one direction and then another and then back again over and over. Well-acted and confidently directed (Marquad, who died at 49, had gained popularity after his turn with Star Wars: Return of the Jedi), Jagged Edge is a thrilling experience that truly keeps audiences guessing literally to the last shot.
It begins with a home invasion. A man in a black mask and clothes enters the home of wealthy social butterfly Page Forrester and after tying her to a bed, guts her with a hunting knife that, as the title suggests, has a signature jagged blade. In her blood, the killer writes the word, “Bitch” on a wall.
In a nearby hospital, Jack Forrester (Jeff Bridges), Page’s husband, is recovering from a head wound he claims he received from the killer, knocking him unconscious while he murdered his wife. District Attorney Thomas Krasny (Peter Coyote) isn’t buying his story, though, and has him arrested based mostly on a hunting knife that matches the murder weapon found in his gym locker at the club. Worse, the doctor’s report suggestes his head wound was self-inflicted and naturally, Jack stands to gain a small fortune from the settlement of his wife’s estate.
Enter Terry Barns (Glenn Close), a successful, attractive, high-powered defense attorney who Jack wants to represent him. She declines because she used to work for the Krasny before he became the DA, but because of some bad blood, she opts to take the case on one condition: No matter what, Jack must not lie. He agrees, and a polygraph test taken a short time later corroborates his story.
Now things get interesting. A trial date is set and the two spend a lot of close time together. Jack is handsome and charming and sincere, honestly working with Terry to clear his name. By nature and circumstances, the two fall in love. Now, the case takes a decidedly different turn for the lawyer. It’s personal, and it is her story we follow the closest. As the trial begins and the evidence swings dramatically for both sides, we ask ourselves; is she in love with a killer, or is he a victim?
This becomes the film’s only conceit and it draws us in with exceptional moments of suspense and drama, but since that is all the film can do, leaves us a bit wanting for the characters themselves as they begin being pieces in the game rather than fully developed people we can sympathize with. All that can really be committed by the two leads is the sea-saw of innocence and guilt, with Terry wildly swinging from one side to the other.
That’s not a criticism as much as an observation. Marquad deftly handles this back and forth with some astonishingly convincing courtroom moments where some of the best battles take place between Barns and Krasny. This escalates until a key moment when Krasny reveals something that nearly gets him disbarred. It’s powerful and dynamic how these two rage on in the court.
That the film plays with the audience from start to finish, finding all the right notes to keep us engaged is a real testament to the writing of Joe Eszterhas (Basic Instinct, Showgirls) who believably wraps this elaborate tale around our minds with expert precision. Jolted even more by a riveting and eerily memorable score by John Barry, the movie is a well-produced pieces of pop drama that still holds up decades later.
As a fan of the film and the genre, there is one bit on contention that takes a bit of the fun away though, and that is the final shot. As we learn to swing back and forth from start to finish we develop a kind of gut feeling and begin to become amateur lawyers on our own, piecing it together, making our own decisions and judgments. As effective as the film is throughout, it stops short of legendary by revealing just who the real killer is, a decision that was surely made by an executive and not the director or writer. By giving the answer away, we are denied the conversation after, and that is precisely what this type of film needs, a dialogue that keeps people thinking about it long after it’s over.