Citizen Verdict

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Movie Review by Almiro Jorge

Starring: Armand Assante, Jerry Springer, Roy Scheider, Justine Mitchell
Director: Philippe Martinez

How would crime be affected if your closest friends and worst enemies had a say in your prosecution? Would the media help to save you or would they ensure your last rights?

Florida has seen an escalation of violence and terrorism prompting drastic action by Governor Tyler (Roy Scheider) to get tough with criminals. Being given the opportunity, the unscrupulous producer of a reality TV show, Marty Rockman (Jerry Springer), creates a brand new concept show called Citizen Verdict. Each week a real-life criminal will have their case tried on live TV while viewers, acting as jury, determine their fate by vote. If the accused is found guilty, the show culminates in the live televised execution.

A well-respected law professor, Sam Patterson (Armand Assante), in dire straits after an expensive divorce, has been given the opportunity to make ends meet with a huge signing as the defence attorney on the TV show.

From the outset, Philippe Martinez, in his directorial debut, creates great effects simply by using the camera in this fast-paced thriller. Fittingly, real public reaction, news bulletins and TV footage form the basis to this film about reality TV. Hand-held tracking shots and quick cuts skilfully bring tension to the plot, although it goes overboard occasionally. Great usage of colour-filters and lighting techniques adds to the fascinating direction.

The lack of development in the Marty Rockman character is disappointing, which somewhat makes his finale non-credible, since his self-obsession is too real for the character we are familiar with. The Sam Patterson character is extremely well played by Assante. Great tongue-in-cheek dialogue keeps you guessing on whether to laugh or cry.

This is a good thriller that already caused a stir at Cannes 2003 for the first time director. The film raises issues about ratings versus truth, Reality TV versus TV, power of the media and even prompts thoughts about the death penalty. Not a must see but definitely something different and worth the trip to the movies.

3 out of 6 stars