Judge Clark Douglas specializes in web critic defamation lawsuits.
"They only fed me on the days they didn't torture me."
South Korean actor Song Kang-ho has one of the great faces in modern cinema. He rarely plays characters harboring deep secrets, as his face has an open, wide-eyed innocence. Sometimes he plays the jovial charmer and sometimes he plays the perpetually unlucky sad sack, but there's frequently a certain likability and innocence to the characters he creates. He may not be a household name in the west, but odds are you've seen him in something: The Host, The Good The Bad The Weird, Thirst, Snowpiercer, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Memories of Murder…it's an impressive filmography, to be sure. Mr. Song's talents are once again put to excellent use in the courtroom drama The Attorney, but the film itself isn't quite as compelling as his performance.
Song plays tax attorney Song Woo-seok, who has made a name for himself in his profession by taking the seemingly thankless jobs other attorneys would rather avoid. The film's first 45 minutes or so roll on in amiable, slightly dull fashion, as we watch the attorney's early successes through the 1970s and discover what a knack he has for turning less-than-glamorous tasks into financially rewarding endeavors. However, things turn serious around 1981, when Song learns about a young man who has been captured and tortured by the police. The kid's crime? Being part of an "anti-government" book club. Song is outraged by the treatment the poor kid has received at the hands of the state, and determines to take the case to court. The case turns into a national story, and Song quickly finds that he's picked a fight with a pretty powerful enemy.
The Attorney turns fairly compelling around the halfway point or so, but it still suffers from a lack of subtlety. This feels very much like the South Korean equivalent of …And Justice For All (a notion accentuated by the period setting), with the courtroom drama turning into an opportunity for the sort of melodramatic grandstanding which frequently happens on the big screen but rarely turns up in reality. Whether the film works for you will largely depend on whether its sizable emotional hooks are strong enough to overwhelm the narrative obviousness. I dug it, but that's almost exclusively due to Song's raw, affecting performance—he brings such authentic decency to this man.
Incidentally, The Attorney has inspired a little controversy of its own in South Korea. The film is based on the life of former South Korean President Roo Moo-Hyun, who was an attorney before rising to that prestigious position. Despite the fact that all of the names have been changed, the details of the courtroom proceedings stick pretty close to the real-life story, leading a number of conservative viewers to label the film as left-wing propaganda. Regardless of the film's origins or political affiliations, the humane arguments it makes are easy to get on board with: even if you're a proponent of torturing criminals (and I'm certainly not), surely we can agree that no one should be tortured or criminalized for reading a few books?
The Attorney receives a sturdy standard-def 1.85:1 widescreen transfer. It isn't a particularly remarkable-looking film on a visual level—quite a few sequences are presented in a standard "point and shoot" format—but the set design is convincing in its period detail, the image is consistently sturdy. Depth is strong throughout, too. The Dolby 5.1 Surround track gets the job done nicely, with the diverse score (which moves from comic cheerfulness to somber dramatic material as the film proceeds) sounding particularly rich. The only supplement included is a theatrical trailer. A disappointment, as some added historical context would have been appreciated.
Despite the subtitles, The Attorney feels very much like an old-fashioned Hollywood courtroom drama. It isn't particularly nuanced and it doesn't transcend the genre, but it's a somewhat moving call to arms featuring a strong central performance. Worth a look.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Well Go USA
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