Criminal Law

They don't skimp much in this thriller: The rain pours, the music blares, the corpses pile up, and the actors madly chew the scenery. Gary Oldman stars as a hotshot lawyer. Whoa. That's trouble already. Oldman is a powerhouse — just catch him in Sid and Nancy or Prick Up Your Ears. But what's a British actor doing playing a Harvard attorney in a Boston-based movie shot in Montreal? Flailing about like a drowning man, that's what. Oldman's laughably in-and-out American accent is the least of his woes. There's the overwrought script by Mark Kasdan that has him defending a preppie client (Kevin Bacon) on a grisly rape, mutilation and murder charge. No sooner does he get Bacon acquitted than the rich brat is sending out vibes that he really did the nasty deed. Bacon delivers the film's one modulated performance — and he's the psycho. Oldman rants hysterically, especially when Bacon starts cutting up again and leaving Oldman hints on where to find the bodies.

There's more. Director Martin Campbell is very keen that we don't miss the film's homoerotic subtext. In one scene, as Oldman bangs away at girlfriend Karen Young, Campbell superimposes Kevin's face on Karen's. Ah, subtlety. Oldman sees his own dark side in Bacon. I gathered this because the movie begins with a quote from Nietzsche: "Whoever fights monsters should see to it in the process that he does not become a monster." But the best line isn't Nietzsche's. It belongs to Joe Don Baker, playing a detective who warns Oldman that "a crazy killer is crazy and he will kill you." Such unassailable logic has no place in Criminal Law.

From The Archives Issue 499: May 7, 1987