Films on Justice

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” — Martin Luther King

See Also:

Films on Justice: DNA Evidence

Films on Justice Worldwide

Films on Injustice

The Plea

Documentary Frontline 2004 NR It is the centerpiece of America’s judicial process: the trial by jury system that places a defendant’s fate in the hands of a jury of one’s peers. But just how many citizens are aware that nearly 95 percent of all criminal cases never reach a jury but instead are settled through plea bargains? To overworked and understaffed defense lawyers prosecutors and jurists plea bargains are the safety valve that keeps cases moving through our backlogged courts. Critics however contend that the push to resolve cases through plea bargains jeopardizes the constitutional rights of defendants who may be pressured to admit their guilt whether they’re guilty or not. In this 90-minute documentary Frontline explores the moral judicial and constitutional implications of relying on plea bargains to expedite justice. Via illuminating interviews with defense lawyers, a judge and other legal experts, this installment of the investigative PBS series scrutinizes the effects of plea bargains on America’s justice system. While citizens are guaranteed the right to a trial by jury, plea bargains are used to resolve almost 95 percent of felony cases even though their widespread usage threatens defendants’ constitutional rights.

The Exonerated

Docudrama 2005 NR 90 minutes. Bob Balaban directs an impressive cast in Court TV’s powerful drama about six people released after being wrongly convicted and sent to death row. Susan Sarandon, Danny Glover, Brian Dennehy, Delroy Lindo, Aidan Quinn and David Brown Jr. take the stage (which is left bare, to focus attention on the harrowing true stories) as the inmates, relating the horrors they had to ordeal before being set free — and the challenges they faced afterward.

Bidder 70

Documentary 2012 NR 73 minutes. This documentary relates the saga of Tim DeChristopher, who brazenly bid $1.7 million to win 12 land parcels at a federal oil lease auction. With no intention of paying — and determined to protect the land — the activist begins a long legal battle.

Better This World

Documentary 2011 NR 1hr 29m. At the 2008 Republican National Convention, friends David McKay and Bradley Crowder went from bandanna-wearing protesters to federal terrorism suspects. This searing documentary aims to separate the rhetoric from the facts in the polarizing case. See Full Review

Hot Coffee
Is Justice Being Served?

Documentary 2011 NR 89 minutes. This documentary examines the so-called “hot coffee lawsuit” in which a woman sued McDonald’s after she spilled her coffee and burned herself, specifically looking at the reasons why the Chamber of Commerce invested heaps of money to sway public opinion. See Full Review


Docudrama 2011 PG-13 1hr 39m.  In this black comedy inspired by a true story, affable Texas mortician Bernie befriends the small town’s wealthiest widow and then kills her. But despite the suspicious nature of her death, no one wants to think anything but the best of Bernie.

The Confessions

Documentary Frontline 2010 NR 83 minutes. In this edition of the investigative PBS series, show producer Ofra Bikel looks into the case of four U.S. Navy seamen living in the hellish aftermath of falsely confessing to the 1997 rape and murder of a Virginia woman. Through interviews with the convicted men, Bikel exposes the high-pressure interrogation methods used by police to extract confessions despite the absence of evidence connecting the sailors to the crime.See Full Review


Docudrama 2010 R 103 minutes. Convinced that her brother, Kenneth (Sam Rockwell), has been unjustly convicted of murder and incompetently defended by court-ordered attorneys, high school dropout Betty Anne Waters (Hilary Swank) puts herself through law school in order to represent him in his appeal. Inspired by a true story, director Tony Goldwyn’s stirring drama also stars Melissa Leo, Minnie Driver, Peter Gallagher and Clea DuVall.

The Wronged Man

Docudrama 2010 NR 89 minutes. The uncommon bond between paralegal Janet Gregory (Julia Ormond) and convicted rapist Calvin Willis (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali) is at the heart of this redemption drama based on a true story. Husband and father Willis claims he has been falsely accused, but Gregory is not readily convinced. Eventually persuaded to his side, Gregory takes on the case pro bono, and together they mount a 22-year battle to overturn Willis’s sentence.

A Film about Greed & Corruption in America’s Lawsuit Industry

Documentary 2011. InJustice showcases how the class action lawsuit, born from the Civil Rights Act of 1964, was skillfully managed by a small group of trial attorneys who manipulated legal rules, procedures — and even their own clients — to become an international enterprise that rivals the scope and profits of Fortune 500 corporations. InJustice, takes a shockingly candid look-under-the-hood of the American legal machine. The film takes the viewer on an epic journey through the dark corridors of lawsuit scams and abuses, including: asbestos and silicosis litigation, the Fen-Phen diet scandal, the bizarre truth behind the mega-million dollar tobacco settlements, Main Street America to Wall Street, and the shakedown operations in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.” In this original exposé, Single Malt Media takes a unique approach to examining the scope and magnitude of lawsuit abuse, its personal and societal costs and the billions in profits the lawsuit industry leverages, many times without ever going to trial. InJustice blows the lid off the growing phenomenon of how some plaintiffs, who are never injured by an accident or a faulty product, steal resources from those who have been legitimately hurt or damaged. Motivated through personal experience, awarding-winning producer Brian Kelly decided to make a movie about the U.S. legal system. His own dealings with trial attorneys were so laborious and tiresome that it triggered his movie-maker instincts and led to this documentary.

The Whistleblower

Docudrama Thriller 2010 R 112 minutes. Sent to Bosnia to train cops in the aftermath of that country’s brutal civil war, American policewoman Kathryn Bolkovac (Rachel Weisz) uncovers evidence that U.N. peacekeepers are complicit in a flourishing sex-trafficking trade. But when she brings her allegations to light, she discovers that her foes are more powerful than the law. Based on a true story, this thriller from director Larysa Kondracki co-stars Monica Bellucci and David Strathairn.


Documentary 2009 NR 87 minutes. Nicaraguan laborers are paying a high price to get cheap bananas onto the world’s tables, and Southern California personal injury lawyer Juan Dominguez has decided to do something about it. This film tells his story. Director Fredrik Gertten follows Dominguez as he takes on corporate giants Dole Food and Dow Chemical on behalf of 10,000 banana workers made ill by a pesticide used in Nicaraguan plantations years after it was banned in the States.


Documentary 2008 NR 81 minutes. With homeland security and the war on terror becoming increasingly important issues, the U.S. government has grown more and more secretive, allegedly to protect the country and save lives. But is this culture of secrets at odds with democracy? This documentary examines both the pros and cons of government concealment by focusing on classified secrets and the arguments the government makes in the name of national security. See Full Review

The Injustice System in America

Documentary 2006 NR 80 minutes. This compelling documentary explores inequities in America’s justice system, focusing on the higher rate of incarceration experienced by minorities and the disparate conviction rate for African-American drug offenders. Interviews with experts including San Francisco public defender Jeff Adachi; Stanford Law School’s Michelle Alexander; and Vernell Critendon of San Quentin Prison shed light on this disturbing issue.

American Violet

Docudrama 2008 PG-13 102 minutes. Inspired by true events, this penetrating drama centers on Dee Roberts (Nicole Beharie), a 24-year-old mother of four who’s forced to take on a corrupt district attorney (Michael O’Keefe) when she’s unjustly prosecuted in a large-scale drug case. Directed by Tim Disney, the inspiring tale also stars Alfre Woodard as Dee’s mother, Alma, Tim Blake Nelson as ACLU attorney David Cohen and Will Patton as retired narcotics officer Sam Conroy.

Dear Zachary:
A Letter to a Son About His Father

Documentary 2008 NR 1hr 33m. Kurt Kuenne’s tribute to his murdered friend, Andrew Bagby, tells the story of a child custody battle won by Bagby’s ex-girlfriend and accused killer. I have never sobbed so much over a movie/documentary in my life. I couldn’t believe what these people actually had gone through. That shocker in the middle of it though…Like, what? What?!?! Like several others, I was initially caught off-guard by the quick edits in this film. I stuck with it though. In fact, I just watched this documentary of a third time in the course of three days.


Docudrama 2007 R 2hr 37m. Based on events in the 1960s and ’70s, this chilling drama recounts the actions of a killer who stalked the streets of San Francisco and left clues in the newspaper, relating the mystery through a cartoonist who became obsessed with the case.

Catch a Fire

Docudrama 2006 PG-13 97 minutes. Apolitical until the apartheid-era South African government brutalizes him and his wife, Secunda Oil Refinery worker Patrick Chamusso (Derek Luke) turns terrorist in this fact-based thriller helmed by Phillip Noyce. Changed by his experience, Chamusso casts his lot with the outlawed African National Congress and volunteers to be a one-man wrecking crew against his ex-employer. Tim Robbins plays the white cop tasked with capturing Chamusso.

When Kids Get Life

Documentary Frontline 2007 NR. This edition of the probing PBS series looks at the problems of mandatory sentencing laws through the crimes, punishment and viewpoint of five juveniles incarcerated in a Colorado prison, chronicling their stories of murder and repentance. Driven by public fears, politics and media-fueled angst, the U.S. government allows youngsters under 18 to receive life sentences without parole, a harsh practice nearly unheard of in the rest of the world. The U.S. is one of the very few countries in the world that allows children under eighteen to be prosecuted as adults and sentenced to life without parole. In Colorado, between 1992 and 2005, 45 juveniles between fifteen and eighteen were sentenced to prison without the hope of ever being released. Last spring, the state’s legislature eased its tough laws targeting juvenile offenders. The state passed a bill that made parole possible after 40 years in prison, but the measure did not apply retroactively to the 45 former juveniles now in Colorado’s prison system. Producer Ofra Bikel visits five young men in Colorado sentenced to life without parole to examine their crimes and punishment, the laws that sanctioned their convictions, and the prospect of never being free again.

Taxi to the Dark Side

Documentary 2007 R 106 minutes. Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room) directs this Best Documentary Oscar winner that uses interviews, news footage and firsthand reports to examine the Bush administration’s policy on torture. The film focuses on the case of an Afghan taxi driver who picked up three passengers and never returned home. Instead, he wound up dead at the Bagram Air Base, killed by injuries inflicted by U.S. soldiers.

The Road to Guantanamo

Docudrama 2006 R 95 minutes.  Director Michael Winterbottom presents the true story of three British Muslim men known as “the Tipton Three,” who were unjustly arrested and held for more than two years in the U.S. detention camp at Guantanamo Bay.

Bush Family Fortunes
The Best Democracy Money Can Buy

Documentary 2004 NR 61 minutes. This is a documentary by Greg Palast, a reporter and filmmaker who tailed the political clan, especially George W. Bush, from the highly contested 2000 presidential election win in Florida to the purported influence they exerted on behalf of the bin Ladens. Palast also treads on the same ground that the iconic Michael Moore covered, connecting the dots between the Bushes and the House of Saud.

Plunder: The Crime of Our Time

Documentary 2009 NR 100 minutes. Filmmaker and media critic Danny Schechter explores how the current financial crisis was built on a foundation of criminal activity, uncovering the connection between the collapse of the housing market and the economic catastrophe that followed. To get the real story, Schechter — aka “the News Dissector” — interviews bankers, economists, journalists and even a convicted white-collar criminal who blew the whistle on dishonest business practices. This film is very descriptive and accurately portrays the economic events that lead us to the dire situation we are in now. As a business student myself, I can attest to the facts presented in this film – as they are being taught to me currently in study. I did not find it to be biased, but can understand why others thought it to be. The film takes no prisoners, nor should it. People should be outraged by what has taken place. Corporate America was given the keys to the car via deregulation, and their greed ran it off the road. I dont know where America is headed, and I wouldnt dare guess. But if enough people watch this film and do their homework, then maybe we can avoid the mistakes of yesterday.

This Land is Ours
Who Should Own Namibia’s Farms?

Documentary Frontline / World 2005. Frontline/World reporter Sarah Colt travels to Namibia to take an intimate look at some of the black and white farmers struggling over who should own Namibia’s farms and cattle ranches. The conflict over land reform in Namibia is a continent-wide debate in microcosm: Given Africa’s history of colonialism, and its ongoing disparities in wealth between blacks and whites, how is it possible to redress those inequities fairly without causing economic collapse?

Capturing the Friedmans

Documentary 2003 UR 107 minutes. A family in crisis is “captured” through home video in this searing documentary about the Friedmans, an upper-middle-class family who found their world turned upside down when father and son were charged with child molestation in 1987. The media inundated the airwaves with coverage of the alleged crime, but some of the best footage — seen here publicly for the first time — was shot by the Friedman family members themselves.

The Trials of Henry Kissinger

Documentary 2002 NR 1hr 19m. This riveting documentary depicts former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger as a warmonger responsible for military cover-ups in Vietnam, Cambodia and East Timor, as well as the assassination of a Chilean leader in 1970. Based on a book by journalist Christopher Hitchens, the film includes interviews with historians, political analysts and such journalists as New York Times writer William Safire, a former Nixon speechwriter.See Full Review

An Ordinary Crime

Documentary Frontline 2002. It was a robbery gone wrong, and when it was over, a woman had been shot in the head. Fingerprint evidence identified one of the suspects who quickly named two accomplices: a friend and the friend’s cousin, a man he knew only as “Terrance.” And that’s where the problem with this ordinary crime begins. Police apprehended sixteen-year-old Terence Garner and charged him with the crime. Garner insisted he was innocent. The codefendants said they had never met him. Another man with the name “Terrance” surfaced and confessed to the crime, then recanted and was let go. Frontline investigates a bizarre case of injustice where two men with the same name are implicated in the same crime and one-Terence Garner-is sentenced to thirty two to forty three years in prison.

Murder on a Sunday Morning

Documentary 2001 NR 111 minutes. Jean-Xavier de Lestrade’s documentary won an Oscar for its compelling account of the trial of 15-year-old African-American Brenton Butler, who was accused of murdering a woman outside her hotel in Jacksonville, Fla. But when Butler’s lawyer reopens the case, she sets out to prove that the investigation and Butler’s interrogation were hasty and shockingly corrupt. The vindictive and redemptive aspects of America’s justice system are on full display.

Juvenile Justice

Documentary Frontline 2001. Should teenagers who commit serious crimes be tried as juveniles or adults? What happens to young offenders who reach the ‘end of the line’ in the juvenile court system – and how do you rehabilitate these young people to prevent future criminal behavior? Frontline explores these questions as it follows four juvenile offenders – one white, two Hispanic, and one African American – through the Santa Clara, California, juvenile courts, observing how the criminal justice system treats their cases and determines their fates.

Real Justice

Documentary Frontline 2000. Homicides, drug arrests, car theft, assault and battery…it’s all in a day’s work for the prosecutors of Boston’s criminal courts, where 50,000 cases are decided each year. In a two-part special report, Frontline goes inside the halls of the Suffolk County courts to reveal the offers, counteroffers, deals, and compromises that keep cases moving through our crowded courts. Part II of this special report moves from District Court to Suffolk County Superior Court, where the crimes are serious and the stakes are high. From manslaughter to child abuse to murder, Frontline’s cameras follow the prosecutors, defense attorneys, victims, and defendants as they bargain and negotiate their way through the criminal justice system.

The Thin Blue Line

Documentary 1988 NR 102 minutes. Filmmaker Errol Morris’s gripping investigation into the murder of a Dallas police officer was responsible for freeing the man who was originally — and erroneously — charged with and convicted of the crime. The Thin Blue Line focuses on the case of Randall Adams, who allegedly murdered a police officer. Combining his nearly obsessive concern for the truth with his experience as a private detective, Morris unearthed a plethora of misconceptions and flat-out lies that made it clear Adams was being framed. Publicity surrounding the film resulted in his case being re-opened, exonerating Adams. What makes the film so different is that there is no narration, and no identification of the people who are being interviewed. The re-enactments don’t quite show the viewer everything. The point here is that the search for truth and justice is not an easy one. Morris allows all sides to present alternative accounts of the events, showing the viewer objects and re-enactments that support each story. This has the effect of turning the viewer into an investigator or jury member. The film’s title is from a statement by the prosecutor referring to the line between peace and anarchy, represented by the police. See Full Review

The Camden 28

Documentary 2007 NR 1hr 22m. This stirring documentary recounts the trial of 28 Vietnam War opponents who broke into a New Jersey draft board office in 1971. The goal of the group was to make a bold statement in opposition to the war in Vietnam by way of sabotaging the portion of the draft process that was administered through the local draft board in Camden. Their plan was to break into the draft board offices at night and search for, collect, and either destroy or remove the records of all Class 1-A status draft registrants. It was to be both a symbolic and real blow to the process through which tens of thousands of young American men were being drafted and sent to fight in Vietnam.
See Full Review

To Kill a Mockingbird

Drama 1962 NR 130 minutes. Southern comforts abound in this big-screen adaptation of Harper Lee’s novel as lawyer Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck, in an Oscar-winning role) defends an innocent black man (Brock Peters) against rape charges but ends up in a maelstrom of hate and prejudice. Meanwhile, with help from a friend (John Megna), Finch’s children, Jem (Phillip Alford) and Scout (Mary Badham), set their sights on making contact with a reclusive neighbor (Robert Duvall).Full Review

The Murder of Emmett Till

Documentary American Experience 2003 NR 53 minutes.  This PBS “American Experience” documentary examines the murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till and the subsequent acquittal of his killers. Considered a catalyst for America’s civil rights movement, Till’s death sent shockwaves throughout the world. While visiting the Deep South, Till whistled at a white woman, an act which led to his brutal killing. Activists organized after Till’s mother let national newspapers run pictures of her mangled son. See Full Review

The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till

Documentary 2005 PG-13 70 minutes.  When he visited family in Mississippi in 1955, 14-year-old Emmett Till never imagined he wouldn’t be coming home. But that was before he met Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, who savagely beat and killed the boy for allegedly whistling at a white woman. This absorbing documentary from director Keith Beauchamp ultimately moved the U.S. Department of Justice to reopen the case in 2005, 50 years after the crime.

Scottsboro: An American Tragedy

Documentary American Experience 2000 NR 90 minutes. When two white women accused nine black teenagers of raping them on an Alabama train in 1931, their claims set off a chain reaction that eventually reached the Supreme Court — and launched the modern-day Civil Rights movement. Shot over five years on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line, this fascinating installment of the “American Experience” series dissects the particulars of the case through the words of those who lived it.See Full Review

Incident at Oglala
The Leonard Peltier Story

Documentary 1992 PG 1hr 31m. Narrated by Robert Redford, this provocative documentary chronicles the controversial events surrounding the shooting of two FBI agents on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation in 1975, resulting in the conviction of Sioux activist Leonard Peltier. Featuring reenactments and interviews with key players in the incident, the film offers evidence that the government’s prosecution of Peltier was unjust and politically motivated.

Justice For Sale

Documentary Frontline 1999. Frontline and Bill Moyers investigate how campaign cash is corrupting America’s courts. In the thirty-nine states where judges are elected, special interest money is pouring into judicial politics, threatening to compromise judicial independence. The film focuses on three states–Texas, Louisiana, and Pennsylvania–and documents efforts by special interest groups to influence judges and their decisions.


Documentary Frontline 1999. In the last five years, nearly a third of defendants in federal drug trafficking cases have had their sentences reduced because they informed on other people they snitched. With the prospect of mandatory life sentences facing many charged with drug crimes, the only option to escape their fate is to inform on someone else, resulting in unsettling cases in which minor offenders are serving harsh prison sentences. Frontline takes a critical look at the federal governments disturbing use of informants in drug prosecutions and the effect it has had on individuals rights and the U.S. judicial system. The web site for “Snitch” delves deeper into the story offering: a report on a recent federal court ruling challenging government leniency deals; an interview with producer Ofra Bikel; experts’ views on the pros and cons of using informers; a closer look at cases profiled in the program; more of the interviews with judges and prosecutors; and, a smart quiz on drug laws and prosecutions.

Secrets of an Independent Counsel

Documentary Frontline 1998. In a rare in-depth television interview given by a sitting independent counsel, Donald Smaltz takes Frontline inside his investigation of former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy. Frontline correspondent Peter Boyer steps behind the controversy about Kenneth Starr to find out what these independent counsels really want, how far they’ll go to get it, and why they cost so much money.

The Secret File on J. Edgar Hoover

Documentary Frontline 1993. For nearly 50 years, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover amassed secret files on America’s most prominent figures, files he used to smear and control presidents and politicians. Frontline reveals how Hoover’s own secret life left him open to blackmail by the Mafia and offers a startling new explanation why the FBI allowed the mob to operate unchallenged for over two decades.

Inside the Jury Room

Documentary Frontline 1986. For the first time on American television, Frontline cameras move inside a jury room to record the deliberations in a Wisconsin criminal trial. The results yield a view of 12 Americans grappling with guilt, innocence, and the nature of justice as never before seen.

The Mind of a Murderer

Documentary Frontline 1984. Part 1 is aterrifying look into the mind of mass murderer Kenneth Bianchi, who killed two women in Bellingham, Washington, and was one of the Hillside Strangler murderers in Los Angeles. Yet, he almost escaped punishment for these crimes because he convinced a group of experts that he had multiple personalities and was not mentally competent to stand trial. Part 2 raises serious questions about the use of psychiatric evidence in criminal proceedings. Kenneth Bianchi convinced experts that he had multiple personalities and was mentally unfit to stand trial for his crimes. Before Frontline cameras, Bianchi is unmasked and is proved to be an accomplished faker.

The Verdict

Drama 1982, R, 2h 9min. A lawyer sees the chance to salvage his career and self-respect by taking a medical malpractice case to trial rather than settling. An open-and-shut malpractice suit against a Catholic hospital in Boston where a young woman was carelessly turned into a vegetable because of a medical oversight. The deal is pretty simple. Galvin can expect to settle out of court and pocket a third of the settlement. But Galvin goes to see the young victim in a hospital, where she is alive but in a coma. He determines to try this case to prove that the doctors who took her mind away from her were guilty of incompetence and dishonesty. Galvin’s redemption takes place within the framework of a courtroom thriller. The screenplay by David Mamet is a wonder of good dialogue, strongly seen characters and a structure that pays off in the big courtroom scene – as the genre requires. As a courtroom drama, “The Verdict” is superior work. But the director and the star of this film, Sidney Lumet and Paul Newman, seem to be going for something more; “The Verdict” is more a character study than a thriller. Frank Galvin provides Newman with the occasion for one of his great performances. This is the first movie in which Newman has looked a little old, a little tired. There are moments when his face sags and his eyes seem terribly weary.

Heavens Fall

Docudrama 2006 PG-13 105 minutes. Inspired by the true events surrounding the “Scottsboro Nine,” this compelling drama follows the plight of nine young black men, unjustly sentenced to death in the spring of 1931, following the false accusations of raping two white women. Defended by New York attorney Sam Leibowitz (Timothy Hutton), the case became a watershed event in the history of the American legal system. David Strathairn and Anthony Mackie co-star.

12 Angry Men

Drama 1957 NR 96 minutes. Knowing full well that a guilty verdict means death, a jury of 12 men (including Jack Warden and Jack Klugman) must decide the fate of an 18-year-old boy accused of fatally stabbing his father. But only one juror (Henry Fonda) wants to take the time to coolly deliberate the case. Sidney Lumet (Network) made his directorial debut with this Oscar-nominated drama that illuminates all the petty impediments on the path to justice.

The Ox-Bow Incident

Drama 1943 NR 75 minutes.  Director William A. Wellman’s Western about justice digs into the mob-led lynching of three innocent men. The film centers on cowboys Carter (Henry Fonda) and Croft (Harry Morgan), who reluctantly join a hunt for murderous cattle rustlers. Led by ex-soldier Tetley (Frank Conroy), the posse captures three transients (Dana Andrews, Anthony Quinn and Francis Ford). When Tetley calls for their execution without proof of their guilt, Carter faces a moral dilemma.  The additional features include commentary by the director’s son and a historian who explain how this dark Western was ahead of its time by going beyond stereotypes in dealing with the serious issue of justice.

See Also:

Films on Justice: DNA Evidence

Films on Justice Worldwide


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