VITAL SIGNSrnThe New Southrnby Michael WashburnrnA Time to KillrnProduced by Arnon Milchan,rnMichael Nathanson, Hunt Lowry,rnand ]ohn GrishamrnDirected by ]oel SchumacherrnBased on a novel by ]ohn GrishamrnScreenplay by Akiva GoldsmanrnReleased by Warner Brothers ATime to Kill, Joel Schumacher’s newrnfilm about race relations in thernSouth, has drawn plaudits from manyrncritics. Stanley Kauffmann, writing inrnthe New Republic, hails the return ofrn”the old-fashioned Hollywood liberalrnfilm.” While this movie has much inrncommon with earlier anti-South epics—rnMississippi Burning comes to mind—itrndoes not depict the familiar battle betweenrnwhite bigots and angry blacks assistedrnby Northern civil rights workersrnand federal agents. Instead, Schumacher’srnfilm puts a contemporary liberal spinrnon the great divide Faulkner depicted, inrnhis novels about the Sartoris family, betweenrnthe emerging, urbanized NewrnSouth and the backward Old South.rnThe movie opens with shots of a pairrnof ugly, sweaty hillbillies tearing aroundrnCatron County, Mississippi, in—whatrnelse?—a pickup truck, decorated with arnConfederate flag decal. After yellingrnthreats and huriing a whiskey bottle atrnsome young blacks, the two men stop tornbuy beer at a black grocery store. On thernway back, they spot the 10-year-oldrndaughter of Carl Lee Haley, a well-likedrnblack who works in the lumberyard. Afterrnhuriing a beer can—one of their favoriternpastimes, apparently—and knockingrnthe young girl down, the two menrnstop and proceed to rape her, beat herrnsenseless, urinate on her, and toss her violatedrnbody into a river.rnAfter killing the two bumpkins onrntheir way to trial—and crippling a policernofficer in the process—Carl Lee Haleyrnseeks the help of Jake Brigantz, a risingrnyoung lawyer and the disciple of arnrenowned former civil rights attorney.rnBrigantz (played with no charisma byrnMatthew McConaughey) is a perfectrnwhite-collar New Southerner: polished,rnenlightened, articulate, suburban, liberal.rnWith his progressive politics and virtuallyrnaccentless speech, he stands inrnsharp contrast to the assorted rednecks,rnrepressed Puritans, and morons whornmake up most of Catron County’s citizenry.rnAlthough Carl Lee cannot offerrnhim more than chicken feed for his troubles,rnJake takes on the case in the hope ofrnmaking a political and moral statement.rnSpeaking before the television camerasrnoutside the county courthouse, Jakernstates his wish to show that in the NewrnSouth it is possible for a black man to getrna fair trial and receive justice, that justicernin the South is now colorblind. Enlightenmentrnand rationality will win out overrnbigotry and stupidity; the New Southrnwill prevail over the Old South.rnThe brother of one of the ventilatedrnrednecks, played by Kiefer Sutheriand,rndoesn’t see it that way. Somewhat morernclean-cut than his relative, but otherwisernjust as backward, he decides to launch arnvigilante campaign of his own, but herndoesn’t know where to turn for help. Hernis convinced, like everyone else, that thernKu Klux Klan has more or less vanishedrnfrom Catron County, until a local GrandrnWizard informs him that the Klan is stillrnaround—in fact, it is “always there, beneathrnthe surface” of Southern society.rnThe Klan official complains that todayrnthe blacks have everyone—even the federalrngovernment—on their side, avowingrnthat the Klan represents the last hope ofrnwhite people. With the help of some localrnKlansmen, Sutherland tries severalrntimes to kill Jake and his family, but isrnfoiled each time by a mole inside the organizationrnwho tips off the policern(though for some mysterious reason hernwaits until literally the last second to dornso).rnAn interesting touch is the portrayal ofrnthe NAACP’s involvement in Carl Lee’srncase. The minister of a local black congregationrnreceives a visit from an unctuousrnNAACP official who claims to havern”marched with Dr. King” during thernheyday of the civil rights era. In the official’srnview, Jake Brigantz is “out ofrntouch” with the needs of the community,rnand must be replaced by an NAACPappointedrnlawyer. He would thereforernlike the minister to take collections fromrnhis congregation—setting aside a modestrnadministrative fee, of course—in orderrnto pay for a new attorney. The replacementrnlater turns out to be thernnotorious head of a legal “death squad”rnwhich intentionally loses the cases of accusedrnblacks in order to make martyrs ofrnthem. When Carl Lee declines to acceptrnhis “help,” the NAACP officialrnloudly denounces him for enlisting arn”cracker” in his struggle for freedom.rn(Not so long ago the black demagoguernturned up only rarely in films of limitedrncommercial appeal, like the Al SharptonlookalikernReverend Bacon in The Bonfirernof the Vanities. But today, even in a “Hollywoodrnliberal film,” the hypocriticalrnprofessional Negro seems to have becomernan Established Character whom itrnis acceptable to mock.)rnBut the culprits in this film are ordinaryrnSoutherners—or the Klansmen andrnbigots who act on what is darkest in thernSouthern psyche. Most of the whites arernunsympathetic to Carl Lee—the streetrnoutside the courthouse is the site of tensernand, in one scene, horrifically violentrnconfrontations between black supportersrnand men dressed in sheets. The jury, secretlyrndiscussing the case over dinner,rnprematurely finds Carl Lee guilty ofrnmurder. Jake does finally win the case,rnbut only through a predictable psychologicalrntrick—giving a lengthy, lurid accountrnof the rape of poor Tanya Haley,rnand then telling the jury to imagine thatrnthe girl whose bloody, violated bodyrndrifts down the river has a white face.rnIn the entire two-and-a-half hour film,rnthere is only one reference to an interracialrncrime other than Tanya’s rape. Beforerncarrying out the revenge killings,rnCari Lee asks Jake about the verdict in arncase in another county in which “fourrnwhite boys” raped a black girl. Uponrnlearning that they were acquitted, he decidesrnthat the only course left to him is torntake the law into his own hands. Fairrnenough. Of course, if we accept this as arnrationale for murder, then whites wouldrnbe justified in slaughtering thousands ofrnblack rapists every year. The white vic-rnDECEMBER 1996/43rnrnrn