A very good actor plays a good lawyer in a badly written and directed crime drama and loses the case for suspenseful filmmaking in Criminal Law.
Director Martin Campbell (BBC’sedge of Darkness) opens his feature with police in Boston (played by Montreal) discovering a mutilated rape victim in a rain-soaked tableau of blackish-blue gloom, a mood/color motif that’s recycled throughout the movie. Action then fast-forwards to a courtroom where cocky lawyer Ben Chase, rendered with superb American accent and mannerisms by British Gary Oldman, pulls a sly trick out of his hat to demolish an eyewitness and free his wealthy, self-absorbed client Martin Thiel (Kevin Bacon).
No sooner is Bacon back on the streets, however, than the killer strikes again. Oldman realizes he’s unleashed a monster, and is reminded of this constantly by two detectives (Joe Don Baker and Tess Harper). The stage is set for a clumsily plotted psychological cat-and-mouse game between Oldman and Bacon.
Although Bacon is convincing as the icy, deranged killer, his character’s menace is undermined by the story’s ill-defined pretensions as an essay on the American legal system and a herky-jerky continuity that’s fatiguing instead of tingling.