Role of justice in films

In life, we seem to be hardwired with a sense of what we call justice. It’s that impulse we have to set things straight; to right a wrong. When we or others are treated unfairly, we desire to see reparation or even punishment, depending on the situation.

Yes, justice can be a joyous thing for those who do good as well as a terror for the unlawful. Of course, we’ve all been innocent and we’ve all been guilty at one point or another.

As the following cinematic suggestions illustrate, justice doesn’t always play out as we feel it should. Often our desire for what is fair remains only a desire as atonement is rare.

Our first search for justice takes us to the courtroom in Witness for the Prosecution (1957, NR). Based on an Agatha Christie play and adapted by Billy Wilder, there is a lot of great writing here. What’s even better is that it’s supplemented with great performances from Charles Laughton, Tyrone Power, and Marlene Dietrich.

Laughton plays Robarts, a retiring defense attorney, the best in Britain, who takes the case of an American veteran (Power) who is charged with a capital offense for the murder a wealthy widow. All evidence seems to be stacked against the troubled defendant including the testimony of his beloved wife (Dietrich). Can Robarts pull through a series of suspenseful twists and save his client’s life? You can find out this Tuesday, the 8th, at 9:45 p.m. on TCM.

The search continues in an acclaimed Australian film called Breaker Morant (1980, PG). It revolves around the court martial of three army officers for the murder of prisoners in the South African Boer War. The three officers maintain they were following orders based on the barbarous nature depicted of the Boer enemy. Again, as in Witness for the Prosecution, it appears that no one will side with the officers except for their ill prepared, but valiant attorney. As if fighting a losing battle, even their most sound and concrete arguments are shot down.

Through a series of colorful flashbacks, we see the true events leading to the trial as well as what powers are working behind the scenes. Ultimately, we learn not all is well down under. But is a dismal fate sealed for the heroic officers? You can catch it for free on

Finally we have a fascinating documentary about the true events surrounding an innocent man’s conviction. The Thin Blue Line (1988, NR) shows us through archives, interviews, and stylized reenactments, how Randall Adams was wrongfully sentenced to life in prison for the slaying of a police officer.

The movie focuses on a real and rough subject matter, but a crisp color palette and an electrifying score by Golden Globe winner Philip Glass result in a polished package. The most impactful element of the film is that it caused the court to reopen the case. The revelations exposed by The Thin Blue Line’s release, resulted in Adams’s conviction being overturned, setting him free. See this captivating true tale on Netflix.

(Reece Kelly, a native of East Liverpool, studied Film at Regent University. He can be reached at