Movie Review: The Trials of Cate McCall (2013)

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Less interested in guilt or innocence than a case she feels she can argue and win, as a lawyer Cate McCall (Kate Beckinsale) is used to navigating through difficult terrain where everyone is lying to some extent to get their way.

But when she’s given a case that she discovers is bogged down by untruths, corruption, politics, betrayal and changed statements, Cate McCall finds herself trying to figure out which lies are justified, what really went wrong, and how she can begin to try and make things right.

To this end she relies not only on her legal mind but her feminine intuition and hard knock background as a recovering alcoholic who’s all too familiar with covering things up before making amends in the world of truth and lies.

A former civil action attorney whose flawless court record is the only thing left still intact after pills and booze ruined her marriage and left her ex with temporary custody of her young daughter, Cate is assigned one final case to complete her probationary legal work when she’s handed the appeal of a woman convicted of murder who swear she’s been wrongly convicted.

Although she dismisses the entire matter as a “loser” at first glance of the facts, it isn’t until she meets the young frightened woman – a fellow mother – that she realizes she may have a case worth putting her career (and perhaps even her life) on the line for when she discovers one inaccuracy, lie and cover-up after another.

When the gaps in logic and ever-evolving timelines that convicted her client begin to weigh on the mind of the lawyer who’s been wrong one time before in a case that sent an innocent man to prison for twelve years of his life, Cate becomes more determined than ever not to make the same mistake twice.

Aided in her plight for justice by her friend and rehab sponsor (Nick Nolte) whose background as a criminal defense attorney helps her locate multiple witnesses and inconsistencies, it isn’t long before they discern that there are so many holes in the case that it threatens to drown everyone involved.

Yet it’s only when Cate ascertains the truth behind some of the lies that she realizes there’s much more to the tale than what meets the eye or that can actually be proven in the black and white legal setting of guilt over innocence and wrong versus right.

With more twists and turns than thematically similar, bigger budgeted multiplex offerings like Fracture and the ho-hum remake of Fritz Lang’s ‘50s legal Noir thriller Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, Cate McCall is a terrific find for a fun night in.

To be fair, viewers who’ve seen one too many courtroom picture may see the final surprise coming a mile away. This being said, the best way to ensure you’ll be able to sit back and enjoy it is if you stay as far as possible from the spoiler-filled movie trailer included on the disc and just let Beckinsale’s flawed heroine McCall call the shots.

Although it’s unfortunate that the female driven film wasn’t given at least a VOD platform bow to have helped drive awareness for the Beckinsale anchored production earlier to promote the DVD, thankfully the added character actor prestige of Nolte, James Cromwell and others will help ensure it won’t get lost in the shuffle of CG-heavy, commercial tie-in ready Redbox rental bait.

For even though writer/director Karen Moncrieff’s Trials may never fully shake it’s gritty cable-TV-movie-of-the-week production level trappings, its A-level cast does a crackerjack job of giving it everything they’ve got.

Imperfect but admirable in its attempt to hark back to the legal movie hall of fame a la Primal Fear or And Justice For All, the 89 minute work is so breathlessly paced and thrillingly engrossing that you’re able to forgive its slightly convoluted third act revelations.

Guilty of being downright entertaining, Moncrieff’s Trials is an otherwise ingeniously plotted hybrid of post WWII character driven Film Noir endeavors (centered on liars and lies both evil and justified) along with ‘90s era John Grisham paperback tales of legal suspense navigated by crusading yet conflicted lawyers striving to put it all on the line in order to do what’s right.

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