Over the last several years, many real-life court cases have been brought to the big screen. However, few have held the significance that is seen in the wrongful death case of Kevin Thatcher. Arrested for what was originally considered a routine DUI infraction in Marshalltown, Iowa, Thatcher was later found dead in an alley outside of the police station. The arresting officer's story is highly suspicious, and everyone involved seemed to be covering up the true occurrences of that night. It is now up to struggling personal injury attorney Stuart Pepper to dive into this heated battle; one that could uncover a long trek of lies and corruption. But regardless the outcome, one thing is sure; this case will change Pepper's life, forever.
Featuring a cast that is highlighted by Eliza Dushku who is most known for her role on TV's 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer,' it is clear early on that the film is extremely dependent on its story. Luckily, it succeeds in that element; though I feel that it could have done much better.
Following a high profile case of wrongful death and police misconduct, the film possesses numerous opportunities to really deliver a sucker punch to all those watching. Sadly, the punch never comes. Instead, all we get is a push-over attorney in Stu Pepper, and a lackluster set of trial scenes, all of which come together to form a peaceful, almost serene look at the justice system.
Where are the iconic blow-ups that have become a must in mainstream cinema? Where are the intense altercations between an attorney and his client? And where is the moment of self-recognition? Sadly, none of it is present. But that isn't such a bad thing.
If there is one thing that this film does right, it is that it goes against everything Hollywood stands for. Gone is the 'required' climatic sequence of events. The disturbing images are nowhere to be found. Instead, director Brian Jun takes us inside the life and mind of twenty-one-year-old Kevin Thacker as he dives into his story, creating a person, and forcing us to realize that this is not a story about a character, but a story about a man.
As for the acting, there is little to say. Gabriel Mann gives a mediocre performance as pushover Stu Pepper. Plagued with an inability to make a direct decision, Mann's Pepper proves that he is incapable of the chaotic life that represents that of an attorney. He rarely fights, never raises his voice and always seems to be looking down upon himself. He lacks confidence, and for an up and coming trial lawyer, the presence that Mann brings to the screen is unacceptable.
The same goes for John Savage and Lee Garlington, two somewhat veteran actors who could have brought more life to the film as Kevin's parents. Instead, both stood on the side lines, never wanting to step into the driver's seat. There is just no emotion from them. Their youngest son has just died, and yet they hardly bat an eyelid when recounting the horrific events that lead to his death. When real parents would have been emotional and heartbroken; these two actors were stern and factual. As a result, a strong barrier was inserted between them and the audience, a barrier that has yet to be lifted.
Then there is Eliza Dushku, a middle-of-the-road actress who has yet to find her niche in the hectic world known as Hollywood. Sadly, this film will do little to lift her resume as she is rarely seen on screen. Her character, Pepper's assistant, has yet to pass the bar; therefore, serving more as a motivator for the lawyer than anything else. Her place in the film is needed, especially with the events that transpire; however, her time on-screen deserves little mention whatsoever.
The Thacker Case is a prime example of a film that is good, but could have been much better. Handicapped by the underdevelopment of a strong story, the film fails to venture into the emotional and traumatizing times that come with a son's death. Instead, it stays simple, telling the story, rarely getting off base. For that, the film is a success. However, I wish that things had been done a bit differently in order to shine a heavier beam on this all too real set of circumstances. And while I respect director Jun's decision to go factual rather than emotional; I can't help but think that the story could have been more powerful with the combined effort of both.