Music Box (1989)

A few months ago, I mentioned in my review for “The Lincoln Lawyer” that I have an aversion for courtroom dramas because I resent the manufactured suspense (which is all based on bad-faith strawman arguments propped up for and by a deeply corrupt legal system). So, I’m not sure why I elected to watch this other than my appreciation for Jessica Lange, but I’m pretty glad I did. Like “Lincoln Lawyer,” it does its job extremely well: It may not be a genre I particularly appreciate but you gotta respect game when you see it, and “Music Box” has some game. Lange is perfectly cast as a rather brittle, fastidious attorney whose professional and personal lives are thrown into chaos when her beloved father, a Hungarian immigrant who escaped during World War II, is accused of having been a Nazi guard during the Hungarian occupation, and a particularly abominable one at that. It leads to several undeniably riveting courtroom exchanges, each of which carry the weight of a loaded gun shot in the dark, and however contrived it is, it’s effective. The screenplay by Joe Eszterhas has the aura of respectability but that’s mostly borrowed from the gravitas of director Costa-Gravas, as it’s fairly shallow and uninterested in honest character development in favor of outbursts and simplistic call-backs, but luckily the cast (including Armin Mueller-Stahl in a chilling performance as Lange’s father) and direction carry water for the audience.

Rating: ★★★★ (out of 5)

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